I’m tired of hearing activists gripe about the “apathetic non-voter”. The reasoning goes like this, if Americans would just pay more attention and vote then everything would be better. This is a ridiculous expectation; it discounts at least 230 years of American history and we should know better by now. Activists need to accept reality (electoral politics is dominated by useful idiots and oligarchs) and move onto tactics that work.
Is it wise to trust in the electoral process? Those in power often have strong motivations to avoid free and fair elections. Public choice theory reminds us that politicians are motivated by a sense of duty, a search for glory, and the desire to maintain their political careers. It is quite simple really; it is in the incumbent’s best interest to mollify the threat posed by elections. It is dubious to even suggest that voting would be a reliable check on the power of any existing nation-state, let alone the most powerful and corrupt government in the world. Thanks to the internet, people are now aware of the Presidential election fraud that took place in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. It’s now a matter of public record, the game is rigged.
If Presidential elections actually serve to choose the next leader of the free world then we should feel obligated to scrutinize the electorate. Are voters masochists, fools, or civic heroes? Forget the textbooks, if you care to find out just who the voting public is, simply cast your gaze upon a Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Barack Obama rally… the crowd is full of wild eyed fools. This is the American voter; a pack of uninformed followers waving whatever signs the Donald Trump campaign staff handed to them. Libertarians should know better than to get into a voting war with the average voter; that is a losing battle.
Public choice theory has some valuable insights on why the government operates the way it does, why election results turn out the way they do, and why voters do the same dumb things every four years. Deep down, everybody knows that their single vote will not affect the outcome of a Presidential election. Most of us will end up with the same shit, regardless of who we support for President. This results in rational apathy; if the cost of going to the voting booth exceeds the benefits, the individual will abstain. This explains why almost half the country can’t be bothered to vote on Election Day, it’s just another Tuesday to them. Public choice theory reminds us that it is actually quite rational to be apathetic about things you don’t have much control over, like who becomes the next President.
Public choice also tells us that if the cost of getting informed is greater than the benefit, then the voters will choose to remain ignorant. When November comes around competence isn’t an issue, everybody ambulatory is expected vote, even if they think Hobbes is just a cartoon character. It doesn’t matter that most Americans are rationally ignorant about politics; they are still socially pressured into the voting booth.
Americans don’t seem to have any good reasons to spend their time voting, but yet they persist. Despite lacking the rational motivation to vote, we still have about 50% of eligible American voters casting ballots. This seems to defy the public choice theorists. Our “civic-minded” peers combine with corporate “rock the vote” campaigns to create enough social pressure to lure zombie voters to the polls, election after election, despite the lack of material incentive. Indeed, this intangible social pressure probably accounted for most of the 130 million people that voted for President in 2008.
Those goofy political libertarians, calling for hordes of informed voters to appear out of the mist, often wonder aloud why so many people are disinterested in politics. Why do people care more about the Kardashians and the NFL? Of course people will feel alienated from the political system. There is rational ignorance and rational apathy, but on top of that there is the humiliation of it all. We have pundits that condescend with their attempts to manufacture consent, presenting the public with plastic men and vampires and presuming to tell us that they are the only “viable candidates”… distaste for this system is a natural reaction. Also, you have to register and wait in lines, and nobody likes that. Libertarians must realize that the same degradations that motivate activists to rise up and fight the establishment also cause others to withdraw and mentally block it all out.
We didn’t actually need public choice theory to tell us that we have apathetic and ignorant Americans deciding these elections, it’s pretty obvious. The voting booths are filled with people that don’t even like to talk about politics in their regular lives; people that would hush me at the dinner table. Does anybody else see this as a fundamental flaw of Liberal Democracy?
Americans should have greater compassion towards those that are wise enough to distance themselves from mainstream electoral politics, like the conscious non-voters and protest voters (3rd Party, or write-in). Instead, these rebels are heaped with scorn by folks cavorting around with an “I voted” sticker on their chests; mocked by people that generally have no idea what they are talking about.
I have a lot of friends that would argue that voting is evil and I see their point… but I think voting is more accurately characterized as a waste of time. This November when millions are rushing to the polls, lay back and relax. Avoid this harmful ritual, save your gas, and save yourself from the submissive act of participating in a system that you know is corrupt. But most of all, “Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.”