Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Conversations with a Bush Voter...

BV: So, let's assume that the people who vote are a representative sample of the population...

Drek: They're not, but okay.

BV: Okay, no, they're not, but they're the only ones that matter.

Drek: No, they're not.

BV: Look, if you're too lazy to vote, then your opinion doesn't matter.

Drek: It's not necessarily that they're too lazy.

BV: Say what?

Drek: Well, they may just not think that voting will do any good.

BV: Right. So they just sit at home. It's like I always say, if you don't vote, then you can't bitch!

Drek: But just because they're not voting, it doesn't mean that they're sitting at home.

BV: What?

Drek: Okay, let's say you want to boil a pan of water: Would you rub green Jell-O on your face and jerk off for two hours?

BV: Um.... probably not.

Drek: Right, you wouldn't do that because you don't think it'll make water boil. What you would do is something you thought would help, like put a pan of water on the stove and turn on the heat.

BV: Okay.

Drek: So, if you think that voting is about as useful for changing government policy as rubbing your face with green Jell-O and jerking off, then you're going to do something other than vote, like bomb a federal building.

BV: Ah.

Drek: If people aren't voting, it might be because they're too lazy to vote, or it might be because it takes valuable time away from something they think will help more... like practicing with the local ultra-extremist militia.

BV: And we can't tell which one it is?

Drek: Not reliably.

BV: Okay. That's a problem.

Drek: Well, there ya' go.

Amazingly, I didn't make any of the preceding up.


Blogger Jeff said...

Your senario is about the motivations of the would-be voter, not the voting behavior itself, which is, after all, what we claim to want to explain.

Some other problems for the laziness argument:

* It can't explain why voter turnout rates rise and fall so much from election to election (e.g., presidential election years vs. non-pres. election years).

* It can't explain variation in turnout from district to district, state to state, or country to country (it's amazing what state-mandated voting will for the lazy voter!).

* It oversimplifies a wealth of potential obstacles to voting - physical incapacity, distance to the polls, political illiteracy, (linguistic) illiteracy, bad weather, legal barriers (e.g., not registered, not a citizen, felony record), vacationing during the election, working two jobs, having 5 children.

And what might encourage one to go to the polls? Education, politically motivated friends and acquaintances, personally salient ballot issues, small voting districts (where your vote seems to matter), participation in a campaign, party membership.

It's stating the obvious to say that very few non-voters are bomb-throwers or right-wing militia members. That is, alternatives to voting don't necessarily entail other political activities. I suspect the real alternatives to voting have more to do with the mundane realities of daily life: work, school, family, entertainment. As with all rational-choice explanations, your feelings-of-efficacy argument begs the question: In what social contexts is this a rational decision?

Monday, January 03, 2005 1:08:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Glad to see you've joined the "party" here on Total Drek, Jeff. Mind that you don't spill anything, I just cleaned.

The additional matters you bring up are valuable and issues I wouldn't mind seeing discussed in more detail, but don't mistake rhetorical strategy for depth of argument. Right-wingers are frequently the masters of superficial, but emotionally-compelling, positions. Sometimes you need a nice, to-the-point argument to halt their jugernaut long enough to deploy more detailed points. You must always tailor your argument to its audience.

That is particularly the case with your very good question about social context. I would agree entirely that rational choice explanations have inherent flaws, and that we should ask about social structure, but using such arguments on someone who considers themself to be a "rugged individual," is a recipe for failure. Convince them first that the world isn't as simple as they think- then start in on how, and why.

Finally, you make the comment that:

Your senario is about the motivations of the would-be voter, not the voting behavior itself, which is, after all, what we claim to want to explain.You make a valid point, but only to the extent that one's motivation to vote is disconnected from voting behavior itself. Some individuals for whom voting is maximally convenient (i.e. minimum structural constraint) choose not to, and some who are powerfully inconvenienced by the process (i.e. maximum structural constraint) manage to cast a ballot against all odds. I agree completely that we must attend to structure, but that does not automatically negate the impact of motivation, which is itself partially determined by structure.

Good comments, I hope to see you around some more.

Monday, January 03, 2005 5:13:00 PM  

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