Today’s the election and I, for one, will be glad when it’s finally over. Last week we did our own informal poll to determine who we thought would win the Missouri Senatorial Race. In our poll Roy Blunt defeated Robyn Carnahan by capturing 59% of the vote. I’ll be keeping an eye on the returns to see if we picked the winner correctly and if so, how close our percentage of victory matched that of the state.
While we wait for the results and to encourage you to vote let’s take a look at one fundamental question that affects us all on election day.
Why do people vote, anyway?
Your vote won’t tip an election.
A new study calculated that the average American voter had a one in 60 million chance of deciding the presidential election. The 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes in Florida. But even then, your grandmother in Tampa could have stayed home and not changed the outcome.
The chance that your vote will decide a presidential election is much smaller than the chance that you’ll get hit by a car on the way to the polling booth, one psychologist pointed out, not helpfully.
So why do we vote? Psychologists and economists who study human motivation talk about actions and rewards, how the brain is wired. People generally can be motivated to do things that affect their well-being … or that they believe will. That’s rational and logical. But voting is essentially irrational, if you think the goal is to decide an election. Your lone vote just won’t do that.
There are lots of theories about why people vote anyway. Here are some offered by the American Psychological Association:
*Voting is a form of altruism.
*It’s a habit and a ritual, something we do to fit in or feel compelled to do by social pressure.
*It’s prompted by the illusion that, because we vote, others of a like mind will also vote and create a groundswell for our choice.
Maybe that explains why so many people don’t vote. That’s usually chalked up to apathy and ignorance. But perhaps some people weigh the motivations listed above and say … why bother? After all, nothing will change if they stay home.
Life is full of small gestures that carry more meaning than practical impact. Sending $100 to your alma mater won’t put a kid through college. Using plastic bags won’t save the planet. Casting a vote won’t …
Well, it probably won’t elect anyone. But it will be the ultimate expression of your faith in democracy.
It will be your personal endorsement of some people who seek to lead us. In that sense, one vote speaks very loudly.
Most importantly, you are part of the greatest democracy in the world and many people have sacrificed their lives to provide you the privilege of voting for the candidate of your choosing. Voting is one of the founding principles of our country, and no matter how screwed up we might think our country is at times, by not voting you become part of the problem and not the solution.
See you at the polls, if you haven’t already been there. Wear that “I voted” sticker like a badge of honor!