Thank You for Not Smoking Voting

Every where you look these days you see people trying to get you to register to vote. There are ads on television extolling the virtues of voting, and there are even plans such as this one trying to convince everyone, everywhere, to vote. Although voting is the cornerstone of Civil participation in this country, and the single definitive aspect of representative government, not everyone should vote simply because they can. It’s actually bad for democracy.

The “Motor Voter” law passed by Clinton twelve years ago was meant to encourage people to vote by making it very easy to register. When you go to renew you driver’s license, they can register you with the swipe of a pen. There are voter drives at colleges, celebrities telling people to vote (and usually for whom to vote), and a general message being aggressively pressed upon the public conscience: “it is your duty to vote”.

As stated, it is a lie.

Back in high school (that’s before the Motor Voter law and the current “get out the vote” push), a Vietnam vet, the father of a student, came in to talk to us about his experiences in the war. He did not speak of rape and pillage à la Genghis Khan, but he spoke of hardship, and fear, and things that no doubt haunt the nightmares of many thousands of men who went “Over There”. To be honest, most of what he said is lost to my memory, but there are distinct images I carry to this day (including an embarrassing bit of personal ignorance that I telegraphed, “Jeopardy”-style, in the form of a question — but that’s a tale for another day…). When he finished, he made a strong final statement. “When you turn 18,” he said, “Vote. I don’t care who you vote for, but Vote!” It took me time to find the problem with this blanket exhortation; but although I could not immediately articulate it, I knew there was a problem.

Not everyone should vote.

No, I’m not referring to *insert candidate you don’t like here*-supporters. This is not specific to a particular party, or constituency, or ideology, but to a particular category of voters. The categories of voters are:

Joe Voter
These are the run-of-the-mill citizens. They generally have a couple different issues on which they make their decision, though these considerations do not generally run the entire gamut of issues forwarded in any given campaign. Joe Voter is usually pretty consistent in their voting (in party terms) but not absolute.
These people pore over the platforms of all the candidates (including some of the minor candidates), and selectively balance the subjective importance of their various stands in issues to come up with the person they will vote for. This group is split into two sub-categories: those willing to vote on principle for a candidate who matches their ideology but has no chance of winning, and those who will settle for one of the (generally two) candidates who might actually win.
One-Issue Wonders
Whether abortion, gun rights, or something else, these people vote based on the candidates’ stand on a single issue, disregarding all other considerations. If the candidates agree on that issue, these voters will tend to pick a second issue and vote based on that.
Party Die-Hards
These folks vote straight down the party line, every time. The other party is, clearly, evil and/or stupid; and in their entire lives, these voters have never even considered voting for the other party’s candidate. Specific candidates are not an issue to them, as they already know without looking who is right and who is wrong.

“Joe Voter”s are the bread and butter of the voting public. They are Middle America, and the primary strength behind any successful candidate. Their tendency to vote reasonably consistently is the reason that the political landscape does not swing wildly from election to election — the reason that major politics tends to move slowly. This is a good thing. Go forth and vote.

Researchers are largely responsible for major shakeups, though these only really happen rarely. Ross Perot voters in 1992 are a perfect example of this phenomenon, as they are widely credited with handing the victory to Bill Clinton over Bush the Elder. A more controversial call is the consideration that Bush the Younger beat Al Gore because of those who voted for Nader (or was it Buchanan?). These voters are actually quite healthy for the system as well, as they make it more difficult (or more damaging) for one of the two major parties to get complacent. They insure that the major parties pay better attention to the voters’ desires than they would otherwise.

The One-Issue wonders are both good and bad for the system. On one hand they tend to define the major issues that are discussed over the course of the campaigns. On the other hand, they have a strong polarizing influence, which pushes other important issues down below the radar. If both candidates agree on the issue in question, then these voters tend to resemble Joe Voter. These people would do far more good if they would make their particular “litmus test” a strong consideration instead of an absolute one.

Party Die-Hards have no clue what they’re actually voting for, except in the broadest possible sense. They hear only what their guy says about the other guy, and therefore never get anything even resembling a comprehensive understanding of what is at stake in the election. These people will vote right down the ticket, even in the smaller races where they haven’t actually heard of either of the candidates. Party die-hards are bad for the election process, as their vote is not based on candidates or issues, but blind adherence to a comfortable affiliation.

They say it is your duty to vote. As stated, it is a lie. It is your right to vote (assuming you’re over 18, and a citizen, and not a felon, among other considerations…), but your vote only does some good if you know what you are voting for. So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I kindly request that you peruse the the list presented above and identify your personal Voter Category. If you should so happen to fall into the classification of “Party Die-Hard”, you would do us all a great service if you would simply stay home on election day. Thank you.

2 Responses to “Thank You for Not Smoking Voting”

  1. Anonaman Says:

    There is a lot more at state in elections than the candidates. Often the Ballot Issues are of FAR more concern to everyday life, yet you failed to address them at all. To vote on ballot issues, you actually have to read an understand them and choose, or vote randomly (ahhh!!!!) — there is no such thing as ‘straght party ballot issue’ voters.

  2. Strider Says:

    That’s a good point, actually. There are usually a couple ballot initiatives in my area, but generally not anything vital that really lights a fire under anyone’s butt. (I’m in the Chicago area.)

    In places such as California, however, you ‘re right — there are often important initiatives put before the voters. I hadn’t been thinking along those lines.

    Even with ballot initiatives and such, I think it is generally important to do a bit of homework and not simply vote on the “surface gloss” version of an initiative. Being a cynic at heart (I’m a weird mix of cynic and optimist… a blog post in itself at some point…) I instinctively react to some Great New Idea™ by asking myself “What’s the flipside of that?” A lot of people don’t if the surface version sounds like what they want to hear. Also, you can often still vote the Party Line on these, as they are commonly sponsored either by You Guy or The Other Guy.

    Then there’s the usual B.S. in politics you have to watch out for, no matter what kind of voter you are. In Cook County there was great hay made of them having passed a 7% cap on property tax increases — turns out it was a complete semantic shell game, as evidenced by a friend of mine whose home property taxes tripled (that’s 200%, not 7%) this year. This is an issue that may hurt the Dems quite a lot this election. “…but I digress….”

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