I was afraid of this: Does YOUR Vote Count? at YouGov by Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler:
“Over 40% of regular voters know that the chances of a pivotal vote are less than 1 in a million. Amazingly, turnout is negatively correlated with the perceived chances that one vote will make a difference—meaning the less likely you are to think your vote will actually matter, the more likely you are to vote.
“If citizens realize that their vote won’t affect the electoral results, why do they vote at all? Is it the sticker?—In a way, yes. Citizens receive extrinsic benefits from voting that are unrelated to the chances that their vote will actually matter. …If forced to think about it, most voters know that they won’t change an election result; but they don’t care. They benefit from voting, regardless of the electoral outcome. Voters enjoy wearing stickers, expressing their views, fulfilling their civic obligation, and earning the right to complain. For them, that’s reason enough.“
In the days just before the midterm elections this year, I couldn’t go on Twitter or Facebook or check my RSS feeds without being exhorted to vote, or being told that others were planning to vote, that it’s rational to vote, it’s a duty, right, privilege (take your pick) to vote. The message was that those who don’t vote are either shameful or selfish (here, here, here). It felt like a mimetic propaganda strategy to me, a way for the right-thinking crowd to coerce the stragglers and dissenters into line.
Late that morning, T. and I went to lunch at a local coffee shop, where we ran into come neighbours who were wearing “I Voted!” stickers. On greeting us, they asked, “Have you voted?,” to which we were both somewhat non-committal. I wonder what would have happened next if we had said, “No – we don’t plan to.” I don’t know but I think it would have been awkward.
Maybe I am particularly sensitive to mimetic shaming, or as some probably think of it, the community instilling a sense of civic and democratic duty. Patriotism. Peer pressure. (In Australia, voting is a duty, not a right, and the government does away with social pressure entirely by fining you if you don’t vote.)
I tend to see it as Robin Hanson described in a recent Overcoming Bias post:
“Politics is about two things:
1. Finding ways to coordinate for our mutual advantage.
2. Fighting over who gets more of what politics controls.”
And the closer we get to the elections, the more it’s about the latter:
“Just before an election, the story is that everyone needs to get out and vote, especially those on our side. If you point out that the election outcome would be better informed if those who knew less abstained from voting, you are accused of trying to trick folks into losing the fight. Just before an election, politics becomes not collecting info to create mutual advantage, but war, a raw struggle between us and them (over resources, status, etc.).