Maybe You Shouldn’t Vote After All

I ran into an article on Yahoo.com with some interesting statistics on the group of Americans that will decide the fate of our nation–“undecided likely voters.”

While 69 percent of likely voters report they’re paying a great deal of attention to the race, the figure drops to 59 percent for persuadable likely voters. Among the larger group of all registered voters, just 31 percent of persuadables show much interest in the campaign.

Over time we’ve seen many “non-partisan” get out the vote initiatives, and I simply don’t understand it. If only 31% of persuadable registered voters show interest in the campaign–which I interpret to mean following the campaign–then wouldn’t a 31% turnout among that group be best for America? Why would anybody want a group of disinterested, and uninformed Americans to vote recklessly? Of course, those initiatives aren’t aimed only at that one voting block, but the point remains the same: not everyone should get out and vote.

It is not your civic duty to vote, it is your civic duty to make a well-informed vote. If you’re unable to do that, don’t compound the error by voting recklessly, especially with an economic crisis and a struggle with Iran right around the corner.

According to an August 2006 Zogby poll, only two in five Americans know that we have three branches of government and can name them. A 2006 National Geographic poll showed that six in ten young people (aged 18 to 24) could not find Iraq on the map. The political scientists Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter, surveying a wide variety of polls measuring knowledge of history, report that fewer than half of all Americans know who Karl Marx was or which war the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought in. Worse, they found that just 49 percent of Americans know that the only country ever to use a nuclear weapon in a war is their own.

During recent shows, Bill O’Rielly has been claiming that undecided voters will determine this election, and because that group follows the election less vigilantly, it will largely be determined by emotions and likability. It seems that he wishes those items were not so important, and I surely agree. Likability should be utterly irrelevant in contrast to trustworthiness. Maybe they are somewhat connected, but how “cool” a candidate is, just shouldn’t matter. Not with the Arab Spring Winter and the economic malaise we are embattled with. In the words of Richard Kimball, co-founder of Project Vote Smart, “Somewhere, politicians decided it was more efficient to move us emotionally, than persuade us intellectually.”

Voter turnout in US Presidential elections is usually a shade over 50%. Mid-term elections are traditionally 15-20 points lower it seems. Most seem to think that’s deplorably low, but I’m still stuck on the lack of knowledge of the American populace. 49% of Americans don’t know that we dropped the nuclear bomb, and nobody else has yet? That’s what is truly deplorable!

I admit, I once nagged an old friend to vote in every election, as I said it was his civic duty. In hindsight, I realize I was wrong. If someone doesn’t take in interest in the election (which I contend we all should) then they ought not vote.

There has recently been much talk about voter suppression, in regard to laws that require a government issued ID to vote. Although IDs are required for a great many tasks and it seems challenging to be a productive and law-abiding citizen without one, some say getting an ID is too onerous of a requirement. I would argue that if it is not worth your time to get an ID to vote, and it’s not worth your time to register for an absentee ballot (which I’ve done three times and never needed an ID) then you don’t really need to bother voting anyway.

An anonymous commenter says it all more succinctly:

It is your civic duty to know about politics, the candidates, the parties, the Constitution, current events, and referenda and propositions that may be on the ballot. Then it is your civic duty to vote. Perhaps it would be your civic duty NOT to vote if you did not know about the above (i.e. if you don’t know what you are talking about, keep your mouth shut).

No crucifixion – the crux of your answer is correct: those who don’t know the issues shouldn’t vote, but everyone should know the issues.

Voting is a right, but it is also a great privilege that we have in America. All too often it is thrown away by not voting, or worse, abused by foolishly casting a vote without knowledge or based on emotions. Maybe I’m being a bit elitist, and for that I apologize, but voting should be treated with respect, care, and pro/con excel spreadsheets.

Kudos to the many inform the voter initiatives such as Project Vote Smart, a non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization. Educating the voters will always be more valuable to the country than convincing the population that they must vote.

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9 thoughts on “Maybe You Shouldn’t Vote After All

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  3. This is something I have thought about before. Just look at a conservative interviewing people at an Occupy movement or a liberal interviewing people in line for a Sarah Palin book signing and you might think that not only should they not be allowed to vote, but perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. In fact, don’t you think if we determined that some people should not be allowed to vote then they shouldn’t be allowed to have children?

    So first, I’ll say that right now by law everyone has the right to vote and any attempt to block them should not be allowed just as the courts are shutting down attempts to make voting more difficult for people without reason. We know this is an attempt to block democratic voters because republican politicians have said it. Pennsylvania has a lawsuit based on voter fraud but they not only never prosecuted anyone for voter fraud but said they never even investigated anyone on voter fraud. I’m fine with coming up with new voter requirements, but stop with the lame attempts and stop trying to shove changes in before this election. They should give time to implement new laws and to give people a chance to adjust. So pass a law now for the 2014 elections.

    I know you will bring up not needing ID for absentee voting. But 1. they don’t advertise that enough, 2. if you are undecided, it doesn’t allow you to wait until the last day to vote and 3. if they don’t need ID for absentee voting, why in the world would they need it for voting in person?

    Now let me address the idea of “uninformed” voters not voting. How would you implement a plan to keep uninformed voters from voting? Would you have a test? Who would create the test? And what about this? Suppose a gay man knows that one candidate will fight against his rights but knows nothing else about the candidate, should he not be able to vote to protect his rights because he doesn’t know about the other issues? I don’t really have an answer, but am curious how you would address a plan to make people get more involved?

  4. I wasn’t arguing for a test. I’m merely saying that the push to pressure people who shouldn’t vote (e.g., “Vote or die”) is misguided. It appears that about half of Americans, if not more, are so incredibly informed that the country would be better off if they decided on their own not to vote.

    I don’t know that I would support a test, but a two question multiple choice test that asked (and it could be available in multiple languages too!):\ the following wouldn’t upset me.

    Who was the first American president?
    a) George Washington
    b) John Adams
    c) Thomas Jefferson
    d) John Quincy Adams

    Who is the current president of the United States of America
    a) Barack H. Obama
    b) George W. Bush
    c) Mitt Romney
    d) Bill Clinton

    • OK. Understood. I don’t think when people push others to vote they want them to be uninformed, but I think it ends up that way. And I agree that people should be more informed before voting. And there are plenty of sources today to get informed.

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