Should I vote for a Democrat this year?
February 21, 2016 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I try to avoid single-issue or reflex-voting. I am dubious of established power. I want this country, this world, and all of its inhabitants to prosper, and advance. Why would my single vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders matter? I'm serious, not cynical or angry.
posted by ebesan to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you live? In a lot of states a single vote has very little sway and you'd do better off getting politically involved and not just limiting your involvement to the ballot box.
posted by jessamyn at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2016 [12 favorites]

I actually really kind of think that voting is socially contagious. You have a social network of people that you're part of, and the more people in that network who vote, the more other people in that network (and the people in their respective partially overlapping networks) are likely to vote. So, even if one vote is virtually certain not to decide an election, participating in the voting process can have a bigger influence than one vote.

Also, I agree with Jessamyn that if you really want to make a difference, don't limit your involvement to voting -- get involved more broadly with the political process.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2016 [24 favorites]

If you're asking my thoughts, I honestly don't think the position of the POTUS has much effect on how the country performs, or the world, or whether we all proper and advance. I think the power or the POTUS is insignificant compared to the power of concentrated wealth and corporate unaccountability.

These are just my thoughts. I will still be voting.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:13 PM on February 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

Do you remember when George W. Bush was president? Do you want to go back to that?

That having been said, I've always lived in super blue states where my vote doesn't matter. But I vote because, as my grandfather liked to tell me, "If you don't vote, you can't complain."
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:13 PM on February 21, 2016 [19 favorites]

When you go to cast your vote in the presidential primary, you have the opportunity to vote in a variety of down-ballot, local races - judicial seats, the sheriff, various commissioners, etc. Those elections are important and shape your local politics and governance. Even if you don't think the presidential election matters, your votes in the local races have real impact in your immediate community.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 3:14 PM on February 21, 2016 [55 favorites]

i find it far more important to vote in every election for the local issues, and figure since i'm there already, i'll throw a vote at a president too.
posted by nadawi at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

Why would my single vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders matter?

If having any agency in your life matters to you, every vote at every level in every democracy matters, no matter who you vote for or where you live. People who would argue otherwise argue from a position of blind privilege.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:18 PM on February 21, 2016 [19 favorites]

> Why would my single vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders matter?

Here's why I'm voting: the next President will most likely name the replacement for Justice Scalia, as well as possibly more Supreme Court justices. If you have children, the next court's rulings will affect their lives, as well as the lives of your children's children. These include or could include assaults upon: upholding the Paris climate change agreement, women's birth control and abortion rights, and LGBT marriage rights.

With a different Supreme Court composition, we might not have gotten the outcome of the Citizens United case, which gave corporations unlimited power to influence politics, which has further entrenched established power. With a different Supreme Court composition, the 2000 election might've been decided for Gore, and Gore probably would not have gone into Iraq. Although Saddam Hussein was an oppressive ruler, millions of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers would be alive today, and ISIS might not have risen to fill the vacuum created by his ousting. These are obviously "what if" flights of fancy, but I just want to point out the domino effect one appointment can have on the entire world.

I can't guarantee where you live that your vote will sway the election in any direction, but I urge you to think about the issues that might come before the Supreme Court in the next three decades and who you want appointing some of the people deciding those cases.
posted by bluecore at 3:43 PM on February 21, 2016 [31 favorites]

you should be voting for president because you should be voting in every election.

the reason that the senate republicans are able to stop whatever they want right now (supreme court nominee being their current obstructionist bent) is because younger democrats aren't in the habit of voting in non-election years. senate terms are six years long- the senate we've had the past year or so was elected in 2010, 2012 and 2014. 2/3 of the seats were filled during years without a presidential election.

as the senate goes, so do a lot of state elections... not voting even when your state is 'sure to go to candidate x' hurts other candidates on the ticket, regardless of what side you fall on.
posted by noloveforned at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

You should vote for a Democrat for the same reason that you return a wallet to lost-and-found when you find it on the ground at the mall: because it is the right thing to do, regardless of outcomes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:00 PM on February 21, 2016 [28 favorites]

What people have said above about elections and down-ballot candidates stands. You should go to vote every election both for the local and national candidates that most closely align with your attitudes towards what is best for the world. That being said, I'll focus just on the Presidency. Although in the past it was true that a single vote for the President had no sway in some states (like, say, New York which is solidly Democratic, or Georgia, which is solidly Republican), it's important to note that the conventional wisdom this year has been completely demolished. If Rubio or Cruz get the R nomination, and Hillary gets the D nomination, then the political calculus will return to normal, and your vote may not matter if you don't live in a 'swing state' like Florida or Ohio. I suspect if, in the unlikely case that Sanders gets the nomination, the calculus will remain the same, so long as an establishment candidate gets the Republican nod.

But if Trump gets the nomination, then everything changes. He may or may not transcend party lines, he may or may not be able to win over nominal democrats. We really don't know. We have no idea how things will play out state to state with a wildcard like Trump. Every prediction about him has been wrong, and nobody knows what to expect.

So if Trump is on the ballot come November 4th, and you agree with the sane viewpoint that his presidency would be a complete and total disaster for both this country and the world, I implore you to vote, no matter how things played out in your state in previous elections. Every vote does count, even if a single vote seems infinitesimal in the aggregate. We should all be terrified of a Trump Presidency, and behold, all of us can stop it. But only if we vote.
posted by dis_integration at 4:05 PM on February 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

Although your vote is anonymous, keep in mind that politicians and political campaigns keep track of voting statistics. Demographically, they have an idea of where you live, who you are, and whether you've voted. When you vote, you give voice to what people like you care about, and politicians will look to design policies that appeal to voters like you. This can have national implications, even if your one vote is seems lost in a sea of other votes.
posted by Leontine at 4:23 PM on February 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why would my single vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders matter?

It doesn't. No one's single vote matters. That's just pure statistical fact. It's the same thing with taxes. The revenue the government gets from your taxes isn't going to fund even a percentage of an expenditure.

But clearly the response when the IRS comes knocking isn't to ignore them. Your taxes are part of a mass of money that helps fund everything. Your taxes individually mean nothing, but your taxes when a part of the mass collection of taxes mean a whole lot. Your vote is the same. Individually it means next to nothing. But it becomes significant when a part of the whole mass of votes collected.

So don't be apathetic. Go vote. Participate in this process. Play a hand in bringing about the change that you want to see in the world.
posted by Dalby at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

Regardless of whom you decide to vote for, you should vote because it's pretty cool that the government asks your opinion. Don't take that for granted. In a lot of countries, that's not the case. Many authoritarian regimes couldn't care less what their citizens think. And very few non-political organizations care, either. When's the last time your company let you vote for its new CEO? Do you think Starbucks cares who you think ought to be the new manager at your neighborhood cafe should be? Voting is a pretty unique opportunity; make the most of it.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:40 PM on February 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

What kind of Supreme Court Justice do you think Cruz or Trump would install?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:54 PM on February 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Jason Brennan, one of my favorite philosophers, wrote a whole book on the ethics of voting:
In The Ethics of Voting, I argue that citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote. Voting is just one of many ways one can pay a debt to society, serve other citizens, promote the common good, exercise civic virtue, and avoid free-riding off the efforts of others. Participating in politics is nothing special, morally speaking.

However, I argue that if citizens do decide to vote, they have very strict moral obligations regarding how they vote. I argue that citizens must vote for what they justifiedly believe will promote the common good, or otherwise they must abstain.

That is, voters should vote on the basis of sound evidence. They must put in heavy work to make sure their reasons for voting as they do are morally and epistemically justified. In general, they must vote for the common good rather than for narrow self-interest. Citizens who are unwilling or unable to put in the hard work of becoming good voters should not vote at all. They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.
If you're willing to devote enormous effort to overcoming bias and self-interest and justifying your beliefs, your vote might be moral. If not, your vote is probably bad and you should feel bad.
posted by ecmendenhall at 5:03 PM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you need to clarify the question. Do you really mean "Should I vote at all?" It sounds like you are asking why voting matters rather than why you should vote for one candidate over another. Is that accurate?
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on February 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, abstaining can promote apathy, and apathy can perpetuate more apathy. If you vote in every election in your lifetime, you would probably be more invested in the political process, versus having abstained in every election.

The ones who would even consider the Ethics of Voting are probably the ones who are already considering the common good. The ones who are motivated by self-interest will probably ignore any advice to vote for the common good. Don't self-select yourself out of voting. Just vote. There are many reasons to vote, beyond its face value.
posted by kinoeye at 5:32 PM on February 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm confused about your question as well. I do think you should absolutely vote. I still like asking my older relatives who they voted for back in the 1930s. As for what party you should vote for, that's up to you. Get educated, and vote with as much information as you can arm yourself with.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:23 PM on February 21, 2016

Seconding Dalby. Voting because you think your vote "might count" is a poor reason to vote. Even had you voted in Florida in 2000, your lone vote would not have affected the outcome of the election. You should vote because it's the right thing to do.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:27 PM on February 21, 2016

When hiking trails are muddy, many people choose to step on the plants to the side of the trail (to not get their shoes muddy). The rationale each person gives is that their footsteps won't kill the plants. That is true - however, the foot steps of all the people (each of whom thinks they don't matter) together, collectively, have a huge effect. Voting is similar. Elections are basically never decided by one vote, but by all of the people who voted even though their one vote doesn't matter.
posted by lab.beetle at 8:34 PM on February 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

In answer to your specific question, why would my single vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders matter?

What is the probability that your vote will make a difference? by Gelman, Nate Silver and Edlin:
One of the motivations for voting is that one vote can make a difference. In a presidential election, the probability that your vote is decisive is equal to the probability that your state is necessary for an electoral college win, times the probability the vote in your state is tied in that event. We computed these probabilities a week before the 2008 presidential election, using state-by-state election forecasts based on the latest polls. The states where a single vote was most likely to matter are New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, where your vote had an approximate 1 in 10 million chance of determining the national election outcome. On average, a voter in America had a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.
Primaries are often more competitive (or less predictable) than the presidential election itself, so these odds are likely higher for the primary.

But more philosophically, from that paper again:
A vote is like a lottery ticket with a 1 in 10 million chance of winning, but the payoff is the chance to change national policy and improve (one hopes) the lives of hundreds of millions, compared to the alternative if the other candidate were to win
posted by caek at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2016

When I feel discouraged about voting I like to ask freshly-minted citizens if they're voting. HELL YEAH THEY ARE in every race from president to dogcatcher and they have studied up. One of my grandmothers was old enough to remember the first time she was ALLOWED to vote. I have a colleague who was never allowed to vote when she lived in the South (she is black) as a young woman; she moved to Illinois when she got married and she is first in line at her precinct for every election no matter how trivial, for probably 40 years now. Voting itself is a fairly radical act that makes the world better simply by saying "WE the people - the women, the brown-skinned, the freshly-arrived."

Other people make good points about downballot races and local elections and making your will known to party officials who then view you as a constituency to cater to because you vote. But I still like to vote because 100 years ago I couldn't and nyah nyah patriarchy I won and you can't stop me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:24 PM on February 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

I actually really kind of think that voting is socially contagious.

Seconding this. Humans mimic other humans in a lot of ways. It's one of the reasons why it's often worth considering the question "what would happen if *everybody* did this?" when you're evaluating the impact of an action.

Individual actions are insignificant next to collective action -- but collective action is built out of (and slightly shaped by) individual actions.
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:33 PM on February 21, 2016

If you don't vote, you can't complain.

This is false and it is false in a damaging way. See, here's the thing. Voting is a responsibility of citizenship. If you're accepting the rights of citizenship without the responsibilities, you're free-riding. More broadly, the responsibility of a citizen is to be engaged politically and help move the country in the right direction. Of course, people disagree about what the right direction is, which is why we have democracy to hammer it out. But the hammering out doesn't happen just in the voting, it happens in the political discourse and the talk around the water cooler and chats over the fence with your neighbours and letters to the editor. You know what that means? That means it's your responsibility to complain. And defaulting on one responsibility (voting) does not magically free you from another (engaging politically, including complaining).

So if you didn't vote, please don't make things worse by not complaining either.

And yes, voting is contagious , so your vote is not just one vote.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:35 PM on February 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I share your distrust. I'll vote sanders in the primary and in the general if he wins, otherwise Green Party in November. Hillary Clinton's long record represents everything I can't stand about the Democratic Party. I'm no more interested in seeing her shatter that last glass ceiling in the White House than I would be for a presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, Condoleeza Rice, or Carly Fiorina.

Voting is nearly inconsequential, But it only take up a morning once or twice a year. It matters more to have the conversations with the people around you on why you're voting the way you're voting. I have criticisms of Sanders but I think he would introduce a fundamentally better set of principles into the presidency than we have had in my lifetime: vis-a-vis what are the metrics by which we view a successful country and by how I think he would relate to non-lobbyist Americans. But on the whole, I'd rather trade one activist for ten voters; one great organizer is worth hundreds of people who just vote.
posted by history is a weapon at 2:52 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm also unsure if you're asking "should I vote?" or "who should I vote for?" You will have to answer the second question yourself, but to the first I would say - absolutely. I live in Australia. Voting here is compulsory. Which is to say, it's not compulsory to have a well-thought out opinion, or any opinion at all. You are free to turn up and write nonsense on the ballot paper. You are free to turn up and write that you object to voting on religious grounds. But you're not free not to turn up. Everyone has to submit a ballot paper, for a national election. I like the system. I like to think I'd vote even if it wasn't compulsory - but I can't say for sure. It's easy to put these things off. But I think it's important.
posted by tworedshoes at 3:31 AM on February 22, 2016

Here's my Quora-esque pep talk:

In 1984, I was in diapers and my parents were in graduate school. They lived in Bloomington, IN, and both of them were (and are) solid Democrats. It was a year that their vote wouldn't matter in the presidential election. The lines for the polls were long, and the building was hot, and I was fussy. By all rights, they should have gone home -- or, perhaps, one of them should have gone home with me while the other stayed and voted.

They didn't. They stayed in line and voted their stupid protest votes, and when they woke up in the morning Reagan had won.

But they had voted in the down-ticket elections as well, and, when they woke up in the morning, the election for their House representative was still tied.

In the final count, Frank McCloskey won by four votes. Two of those voters -- 50% of the deciding votes -- were my parents.

McCloskey, for better or for worse, played a crucial role in getting us involved in the Bosnian genocide. There's apparently (citation needed on Wikipedia) a bridge named after him in Sarajevo. The Croatian-American Association wrote a tribute to him after his death.

So vote. Your vote usually won't count, but, on very rare occasions, it will.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:51 AM on February 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Because of age, the next president is likely to fill enough Supreme Court vacancies to determine its course for a very long time. A GOP president will name right- wing justices like Scalia. The Court will be controlled by the right wing. The Court's rulings will support the right-wing's goal of imposing its vision of an authoritarian regime based on its minority sectarian fundamentalism.

In short, if you want religious fanatics who don't believe in democracy running the country for at least the next few generations, vote GOP.
posted by justcorbly at 4:42 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just like the lottery is a tax on the money of those who can't do math, voting is a tax on the time of those who can't do math. What else could you do in those couple hours you spend voting? Because it is almost certainly better for you (and society) to do something else. Arguments to the contrary lack logic or are "philosophical," which usually has the same effect. Just look at some of the points made here: people are asking you to vote because it's "cool," because you can, because of the slightest possibility of having some effect (no mention of the costs), because it is your "responsibility," and because they "like to do it."

If you're going to vote for president of the United States, at least be honest and say you're doing it for personal reasons or for "entertainment," but please stop fooling yourself that it is anything more than that.
posted by thorough at 5:21 AM on February 22, 2016

You are just 1 person with just 1 vote. But elections hang on individual votes. In a tight election, just 1 electoral college vote could matter, and your one vote might be important. Probably not in the presidential race. But local and congressional and Senate races can be very tight and your vote might be that 1 vote. Local politics makes a big difference in your daily life. Voting numbers are widely reported and have influence.

My other point is that your vote matters because you are part of your community, on the local, state and national level. The more people who believe they don't matter, the more things change, not for the good. You matter. I do believe we, as citizens, have a responsibility to vote. Plus, it is, or should be, easy. When blacks in South Africa got the vote, there were people who walked for days to vote, who stood in long, long lines. Because voting really matters. So, I can get up and out of the house 30 minutes earlier and go vote.

Quoted for Truth: Your vote usually won't count, but, on very rare occasions, it will.
posted by theora55 at 6:12 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm Canadian, but I'd LOVE to throw a vote to Bernie. And he has stated more than once: Democrats win when people get out and vote. Republicans win when people are too disenchanted to vote.
Feel the Bern! WOOT!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:20 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

You should vote because the GOP doesn't want you to vote. The more people who stay home for the general election, the better the results for the Republican Party. The obnoxious behavior of many Republican candidates is calculated not only to energize their base, but just as much to spread cynicism among the general population and turn people off of politics and voting. If you believe in Democracy, then by all means you should vote. The actions of the GOP lead me to believe that they don't believe in Democracy.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:05 AM on February 22, 2016

From a practical perspective, the presidential veto is a big thing stopping the republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act. My brother, who's working at pizza place trying to put himself through school, he only has health care because of the ACA. My cousins wife and their baby daughter, they only have health care because of the ACA. A number of my 20 something friends only have health care because of the ACA. If a republican gets elected, it is at best an imminent threat to the health and well being of my friends and family. Please, please go out there and vote.

From a philosophical perspective, I imagine your chain of reasoning for a vote 'not mattering' goes something like this: If I go to the polling station and vote, then look at the results the next day, then likely the difference will be some large number of votes. All of that is true. So at this point you could go back in time, point that out to yourself, and spend the time doing something more important to you rather than going to the polls.

This is nonsense! You do not actually have a time machine. If you did, I imagine you'd be doing something a lot more interesting than posting this question. And even if you did, the universe is inherently chaotic. What that means is that even the tiniest of changes anywhere in the system affects the outcome randomly. So it would be another roll of the dice, and the result would a completely different selection from the possible vote counts.

So the only way to account for the responsibility of voting is probabilistically. And in that sense you have a one in a couple hundred millionths share of the responsibility for a decision that affects billions. So your share of the responsibility is still the outcomes for somewhere around a dozen or more people. It's still a pretty big choice. And ethically, you don't get to run away from that choice. Inaction is as much a choice as action. So go out there and vote.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:10 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, there's some interesting-ish political science research on this question, basically saying that if you look straighforwardly at the costs and benefits, basically no one would vote. Your chance of actually impacting the election outcome (no matter HOW MUCH you care about who wins!) is extremely tiny, and there are real costs in terms of time to vote, mental effort to research candidates, etc. But, obviously voter turnout is not zero. So why do people vote? Well, at least in part, it's because they feel good about doing their civic duty, expressing support for their favorite candidate, and receiving various social benefits (i.e. if I didn't vote my family and friends would think I was uncool). So, maybe one of those things motivates you? For me, it's a combination of all of those, but most especially a sense of civic duty -- while it's true that my individual vote will have absolutely no effect on the outcome (especially since I live in a non-swing state), I also know that if EVERYONE took that approach, no one would vote and democracy would collapse. Which I do not want! So I do my individual part to help that not happen. :)

I do agree with what some have said above that getting involved and volunteering in some way -- making phone calls, knocking on doors, driving people to the polls, even just talking with friends, family, and coworkers and mobilizing them to vote -- probably has a bigger effect than just going to your polling place and casting a ballot. So getting involved in those ways might help you feel a bit more impactful.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you think of voting as a responsibility then you can be proud that you voted. If you think of voting as an investment then you will feel as if you wasted your time. I suggest you vote and be proud.
posted by metadave at 4:42 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: Here's another possible perspective. Each single vote matters because there is no agglomerate of votes without every single vote and the total number of votes both decides the winner and the legitimacy of the entire operation.

But... each vote can matter without being, in and of itself, important as a single vote. And even more, in a big population, a single vote may not *feel* very important.

I kind of think it's an ego thing that a thing is not worth doing if it does not feel like it is possible to, from the outside, identify your role and your contribution, demarcate it, and assign it statistically significant *feeling* of meaning. Most of us don't want to feel like the tiny cog in the big wheel. Many of us were raised to feel like that is not a worthy thing to aspire to. Everyone wants to be the leader or at least feel like one.

But just because your particular vote can't be pointed to and assigned significance, in and of itself, does not mean it does not matter. And yes we all need to be leaders but we can't all be leaders in everything which we means we need to be willing to be followers in most things in order to be effective leaders, even to make place for effective leadership, at the one or two things we can really make a difference for.

So I say vote. Even if individually it's unimportant. One's individuality is not the only measure of importance and of whether a thing is worth doing or not.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:03 AM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Parent/adult child creative financial planning   |   Wirelessly switching an outlet from another outlet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.