The current issue of tpm contains an editorial about voting. In it, I say:
In an electorate of sufficient size, the argument goes, I might anticipate a close race, but I can’t really think that it’s going to be so close that my vote will actually break a tie. Perhaps every vote counts in the sometimes optimistic sense that every vote really is counted, but it almost always makes no difference whether or not any particular individual votes.
So why bother voting if it makes no difference whether or not you vote? I go on to list a few of the usual reasons people give to get around this problem: the idea that voting is a civic duty, maybe an obligation to those who fought for the vote. I’ve got my own reasons for voting, which I think fall out of reflection on something like virtue or anyway character. Bev Rowe got in touch to say that there are other good reasons to vote:
It must almost certain that one party/candidate more nearly represents your views than any other. (We could analyse more deeply here but let’s keep it simple.) It is always logically possible, even if unlikely, that your best-fit candidate will lose by a single vote. Moreover, that loss could cause your best-fit party to miss a majority by one seat. So as long as such important outcomes are logically possible, even though rare, it is illogical not to vote. Not voting potentially allows the election of someone with whom you may disagree very strongly indeed.
But all this does rest on a very unlikely scenario. What is always true, though, even if not so narrowly logical, is that the overall outcome of an election has a wider significance. A party’s total vote affects how people may vote next time. For example, if a losing party achieves a vote comparable to the winners’, its hand is strengthened in parliament, the media and the mind of the electorate. At the other extreme, small parties, like the Greens or the BNP, would attract more votes if they already got more votes. If you want your sort of opinions to be taken into account, helping to create a critical mass of public support is an important step in achieving your goals.
For me there’s something true about ‘casting your lot’ in with a candidate. I think I vote because of the person I am — voting isn’t a mark on a page, but a consistent part of a whole life as it’s lived. Anyway that’s what I tell myself, even though it makes no difference whether or not I vote. Anyone have any other good reasons to vote?
By the way, Brian Leiter conducted a poll to gauge the philosophers’ vote. The results?
65% support President Obama; 9% support Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate; 7% support Republican challenger Mitt Romney; and 3% support Libertarian Gary Johnson. 1% support some other candidate, while 14% do not plan on voting.