Jacob (yak_boy) wrote,


Scott Adams made an interesting post1 in The Dilbert Blog, in which he linked to this NY Times article.

For those of you too lazy to click on either link, to quickly summarise, they make the argument that it's a waste of time for an individual to vote, because elections are almost never decided by a single vote, so your vote doesn't really count anyway. The article claims that this is a fact only truly grasped by economists (Adams himself is trained as an economist).

I thought I'd post my comment here, since it would otherwise be lost in the quagmire of comments over there2 and because this is my blog and anyone who reads it ostensibly cares what I think:

"Just because your vote may not be the deciding vote, doesn't mean it doesn't count. In fact, if anything, the wider the margin in an election, the bigger the message the votes on the winning side of the ballot are sending. Landslide victories tend to shape policy going into future elections; away from the losing side's policies and towards those of the winning side.

So, the converse is also true: voting for the losing candidate is an endorsement of their policies. And if your vote helps make the election a close one, the winning candidate is more likely to adopt policies closer to their rival's, hoping to win a larger share of the vote, lest they face another nail-biter at the next election.

The NY Times article also suggests to me another reason why you shouldn't assume your particular vote doesn't matter. According to the article, ALL economists hold the view that their individual vote doesn't count, and therefore ALL economists refuse to vote unless forced. That means that economists are, albeit voluntarily, disenfranchised.

So, whilst few elections are won by a single vote, there's probably plenty that are won by, say, one hundred votes. In such an election there might be one hundred and one economists eligible to vote, and since economists are so universally of one mind we'll assume they would all have voted for the same candidate. Of course, in this hypothetical scenario that candidate happens to have lost the election, because ALL economists are smart enough to realise their vote doesn't really count.

And that kind of grouping of people is really the key. Whilst individuals may think they are unique when they decide not to vote, chances are that they fall into a certain demographic that is, as a group, less likely to vote. For example, if you happen to be a single parent who has to work long hours and look after young children, you're in a category that's pretty likely to not find the time on polling day. So, rather than one vote, which didn't really count anyway, not being cast, you have a whole demographic that's disenfranchised. And that means that demographic doesn't get the attention it needs and deserves from the politicians."

1. There's rarely any other kind, actually. It's one of the best blogs out there. But, be warned, it may make your head explode with cognitive dissonance. Also, please familiarise yourself with the meaning of the term "Devil's Advocate" before you start accusing Adams of being [evil/stupid/wrong].

2. Adams moderates every comment personally. I have no idea how he has time to do that and still make those daily doodles that he's famous for.

ETA: The LJ feed for The Dilbert Blog is: dilbert_blog, in case anyone care's to add it to their flist. For those using an external RSS reader, there's a link on the left hand side of the blog.
Tags: politics
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