My social media feed has been a dumpster fire since Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign. There are two main camps. First, people saying they will never vote for Biden (myriad of reasons, but him being a rapist seems to top the list). Second, people saying you must vote for Biden because Trump is bad. I imagine this bottom-of-the-barrel discourse will continue off-and-on for the next seven months.
This conversation is stupid, but not for the reasons stated to date (from my vantage point, at least). Let’s investigate and see if we can shut people the hell up, or at least move the conversation onto things that matter.
Let’s start with the Biden over Trump people. A vote for not Biden is a vote for Trump. Everyone has to band together and vote for Biden. Something something Bernie bros. Something something suck it up. The ultimate implication being that every vote matters and every vote not for Biden is courting disaster.
The issue with this position is math. A very common definition of a vote ‘mattering’ is the odds it results in a tie or breaks a tie. Here are some bullet points on that notion:
The only way you can make the math work in favor of voting is if you shift to expected value/utility theory. If there is a trillion dollars of difference between Trump and Biden and you have a 1 in 10 million chance of swinging the entire election, the expected value of your vote is +$100,000.
Issues with that: One, impossible to really calculate. Two, promotes a sort of existential risk/precautionary principle/utility maximizing style of reasoning that you really wouldn’t care about in other areas of life. Three, a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 was won by proving that humans are very bad at the expected utility thing. The real kicker is that ultimately, when an outcome or event is the same regardless of your participation, your participation did not matter.
Does that mean voting does nothing? Certainly not. It does do something. What it does is say something about the person casting the vote. For the reluctant Biden voter, it expresses that they are fine voting for imperfection/lesser of two evils to promote a notion of the common good. Never Biden people jump in at this point and start explaining why Biden is bad (possibly as bad as Trump, maybe worse based on some takes I saw).
Here, again, we have the same issue. Granting the illusion that someone’s vote for Biden matters and saying Biden is bad is not doing anything, for the same reason trying to guilt Never Biden people into voting is stupid. In the realm of social media, you are not haggling over any political influence/power that can register on any scale. Everyone was always already merely expressing themselves with their voting preference, not allocating units of political power. The winner of the election gets all the political power if they get to 270 electoral votes and your vote doesn’t do anything about that.
So, when someone says “I am never in my life going to vote for a rapist,” the response should be “good for you, I hope that helps you/makes you happy.” Responding with “but what about judges/kids in cages/tax credits” is delusional. One vote has nothing to do with any of that.
As a complete aside, politicians should just earn the vote from voters. If they do a bad job, that’s on the politician, not the voter. Nobody owes their vote to anybody. One of the main selling points of Biden was his electability, so he should be able to persuade voters. No one has to do it on social media for him.
I need to clean up several things at this point, because if we have some Reluctant Biden people reading they are likely losing their shit.
Mobilizing people to vote could have an impact (the more votes you are responsible for, the better odds you have). Clogging social media doesn’t do any of that. Face-to-face contact or phone calls are necessary—that’s studies. Could one individual divorced from a broader organization/strategy ever mobilize enough voters to make it worth the effort? Probably not.
If everyone thought voting didn’t matter, then no one would vote. True! Except, every election ever proves that people do not think like that! They vote for reasons other than the “purely rational” ones recognized by social sciences. Some would call it irrational. A paradox, even. They vote to express themselves, or because they have made a calculation about what their immediate peer group/social circle will think about them.
Another issue with the “all voting will collapse” argument is that elections have not been going so hot. Voters are very low information. A lot of them are consistently racist/xenophobic. If I could trick 100 Trump voters into not voting by saying it is stupid, that’s pretty good bang for the buck. Oh no! All voting will collapse if you point out math! Whatever will society do without more 2016’s or centrists or neoliberal assholes??
Voting can be good. Especially if it were way easier to do. Like what if the US was like Estonia and you could vote online? Pretty cool. It can bring a noticeable amount of personal satisfaction. It can generate social capital for an individual that they can invest into other endeavors. It can signal a sense of belonging to a community, like when you clap at a performance or shout at a game.
The tradeoffs are real, though. In some states, you have to wait an hour or longer to vote on average. Ridiculous, almost impossible to justify for care-takers or working-class people. For God’s fucking sake people in Wisconsin were forced to risk their lives to vote. It says a lot about them as people, and I respect their character even though the math was not in their favor.
The real time sink is the pointless typing at your computer, the consumption of articles, and the emotional toll it takes when you read someone say something that pisses you off because you think it influences an election.
I am not saying people have no agency or political power. It is a question of scale. Go out and contribute to a political organization that can achieve enough scale to make a thing happen in the long-term while creating a network of care in the short-term. Never Biden vs Reluctant Biden contributes nothing to that other than getting everyone pissed off at each other and exhausting them to the point it doesn’t happen.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.