Myths About Voter Turnout
Matthew Jones (Political Science Instructor) gives expert video advice on: Myth- More people would vote if voter registration were easier?; Myth- Voting for a third party is a wasted vote?; Myth- Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election? and more...
Myth- More people would vote if voter registration were easier?
The reason why a lot of people don't vote isn't necessarily because voter registration is so hard. It's because they don't think their vote is going to matter. It's because going to vote, even once we are registered, requires them getting into their car, driving to the polling place, a lot of times waiting in line, and then making a decision. And this is going to take a number of minutes, at least 10-15 minutes which, you know, that's 10-15 minutes of American Idol they could be watching. A lot of people laugh but it's true, when it comes right down to it, a lot of people are doing something, and they go, "Oh, I should go vote, but is my vote really going to matter, and is it really worth my time to go vote?" The truth is, statistically speaking, it is more likely that you're going to be hit by a meteor or get killed in a car crash on the way to the polls than for your vote to decide an election, and it's a hard logic to get around. Another thing is that a lot of people don't vote because it's hard for them for them to feel like they are truly and accurately informed about the candidates. They have jobs, they have families, they have lives that make it difficult for them to gather the information that they feel is necessary for them to make an informed decision.
Myth- Voting for a third party is a wasted vote?
Third party candidates don't have a chance to achieve the presidency, and that's largely due to our winner takes all election system. In which, you have to win a majority of votes to get anything. It seems like everybody else needs to vote for one or the other or they "throw their vote away." So that can kind of lead to this idea that third party candidates are spoilers. That they don't really have a useful function. However they do have a useful function depending on your perspective. They have a useful function because third party candidates stand for something. Ralph Nader stood for something in terms of consumer rights, in terms of corporate corruption and other things. Pat Buchannon even stood for something in terms of immigration, closing borders and the problems of free trade and other things. So these candidates stand for something and if somebody picks those candidates over one of the two main candidates, you look at that as either as something that that candidate stands for something that's valid for that percentage of voters.
Myth- Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election?
It's really difficult to make the argument that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election, for multiple reasons. There were only 560 votes separating George Bush from Al Gore. That's essentially within every margin of error, which when it gets within the margin of error, means that there's too many other factors that could have affected it to say with any confidence what caused Al Gore to lose and George Bush to win. Every 3rd party candidate got over 600 votes, which means that if any one of those 3rd party candidates had potentially dropped out and those votes had gone to Al Gore, he would have won too. So once you start to make those arguments, you open up a can of worms that you just cannot put back. Almost half of the Democratic Party voters stayed home, so who's to say that the people who voted for Ralph Nader, if they didn't have the choice of Ralph Nader, wouldn't have stayed home or voted for somebody else anyway?
Myth- My vote doesn't matter?
If five million people cast votes then you can think of it in one way that the difference between the vote would have to be one vote for my vote to matter. So the chances of my vote mattering are five million to one if you look at it in that sense. However, your vote mattering only doesn't, your vote doesn't matter only in that statistical sense, and if you look at other things, like does your vote matter in terms of exercising your civic duty or does your vote matter in terms of the psychological or symbolic benefit you get from voting for this particular candidate, then yeah, it definitely matters. Does your vote matter in terms of being one more building block in the overall edifice that's going to amount to the percentage of vote that this candidate got. I mean, when we, we don't only look at who wins, but we look at by how much they won. The fact that Barry Goldwater in the 1960's lost in a landslide election matters. The fact that Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election won in a landslide election matters. So, and your votes count for that. So yes, your vote does matter. The extent to which your vote matters is really going to be a personal judgment of your own. Don't let statisticians tell you yes or no.