Around this time 4 years ago, several Hollywood heavy hitters – including the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio Jennifer Aniston, and Ellen DeGeneres – joined forces to create a public service announcement that used reverse psychology to convince our generation to engage in politics and vote.
They began by echoing the same message: “Don’t vote!” Jonah Hill comically chimes in saying, “Who cares? The ecomomy’s in the toilet. I don’t care. I’ve got so much money!” Of course, they gradually changed their tune and message to essentially say, “Don’t vote unless you care about a whole slew of issues that affect you. Issues ranging from education to the war on drugs, gun control, and healthcare. Finally, they asked rhetorically, “You know you have to vote, right?”
In an entertaining manner, that video still reflects the societal sentiment that we have heard time and again since grade school: Voting is an integral component of fulfilling our “civic duties,” Democracy doesn’t work unless we are active participants who voice our opinions.
In theory, voting proves that there is some sort of consent between the government and the governed.We are told that voting is a responsibility that we shouldn’t take lightly. Ironically, though, we do take it lightly. For whatever reason – whether it be apathy, disillusionment with politics, or just plain laziness – our generation is usually lousy when it comes to visiting the polls.
According to the last Harvard Institute of Politics poll, only 22% of college students say that they are politically active. And during the 2008 presidential election, only 51% of eligible voters between 18 and 29 casted ballots – a significantly lower percentage than the national average. This gap in generational voting habits is usually even more pronounced in local elections. Despite having been bombarded with the “Voting is your Civic Duty” message, we Millennials consistently lag behind older generations in voter turnout.
As the 2012 presidential election moves closer, many people are proclaiming it to be the most important in our country’s history.
You are told, once again, that voting matters more now than ever before. Failure to “make your vote count” by choosing either Obama or Romney is, quite simply, an irresponsible shirking of your civic duty. But many of my buddies who are Libertarians are quite serious and sincere when they argue that voting is a waste of time.
I have to admit that they make a fairly compelling case, especially for larger national elections. They like to call their stance “active non-voting” or “conscientious abstention,” and their logical (though flawed) argument for the irrationality of voting is twofold.
First, from a practical point of view the probability that a single vote could influence the outcome of an election is incredibly slim. Public choice economist Gordon Tulloch claims that many Americans are “under delusions as to the importance of their vote. They think their vote makes a lot of difference, but as a matter of fact, it doesn’t.”
Their second argument is on more of a philosophical level. By and large, Libertarians believe that the federal government carries far too much power, that chronyism and special interests rule the day (Hello there Stimulus and Bailout!), and that career politicians don’t represent their interests. Because they disagree with the current political institutional framework in our country and view most federal government policy as coercion, many Libertarians view non-voting as a means by which they can signal their disapproval with the system as a whole.
To vote, in their eyes, is to explicitly support a system which forces the opinions of some people on everyone. They say, if enough possible voters choose to “actively non-vote,” then government would not have the consent of the governed and a clear message of disapproval would be sent. Their hopes are high, but usually they are just portrayed as lunatics.
The Libertarian view on non-voting is certainly logical, but I have several objections. For starters, the informed non-voter and apathetic non-voter look identical. If the majority of possible voters don’t show up for an election (which wouldn’t be surprising and happens from time to time already), our society would never attribute that outcome to a systematic disapproval of government as a whole.
It’s just not a realistic expectation and is counterproductive for the future growth of the liberty movement within our society. You cannot quantify the number of people who hold libertarian views or gain legitimacy and respect within society if you encourage those with your views to abstain from voting.
On a related note, voting is the mechanism recognized within our society to communicate your opinions, and, in general, the public believes that, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain.” Whether we agree with that sentiment on an individual level or not, we must realize that most people won’t recognize or respect the critical opinions of a person who opts not to vote. If you choose not to vote, don’t expect anyone to give you the time of day.
So, to my non-voting Libertarian friends: I know that it is hypocrisy to abandon principles and hope you don’t disown me, but I want you to reconsider your views and think about writing in a third party candidate, maybe Ron Paul or Gary Johnson.
That vote for smaller government certainly won’t count, but a collection of similar votes is more likely to be reported in the news than the same number of non-votes. Be realistic so that other people will listen to the many insightful and thought-provoking points you have to contribute. And to the rest of you (the overwhelming majority):
When all is said and done, I encourage you to engage in healthy dialogue about government’s proper role in our society. Be skeptical and openly inquire. Go inform yourselves, and actively promote the changes necessary to bring about the society that you deem best. Realize that the democratic ideals you have been spoon-fed are not as grand as you have been led to believe – that your vote carries no sway.
And vote for the person who you feel best aligns with your views – whether that person’s name is on the ballot or not. If you just can’t bring yourself to write in a name, cast your vote for the lesser of the two “evils.”
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