A single 30-second ad aired during Sunday Night Football in 2011 cost $512,000.
It’s impossible to ignore. Just this weekend I was watching a football game on TV, and during a routine commercial break, I was treated to five consecutive political ads. Five. The next commercial break looked pretty similar, as did the one after that.
Pundits estimate that over $400 million will be spent in Colorado alone in 2012, and this guess is likely low as spending tends to outpace most models and projections. That’s roughly $170 per vote, and that’s what these ads want: your vote.
The almighty vote may be one of the most revered things in our modern society. But why? Why is it so important that you vote in a country of 300 million? It’s a tougher question than most people think, as just a minor bit of critical thinking demonstrates the justifications often used to defend voting (and politics) are flawed and irrational at best (see this TEDxMileHigh talk for more).
We have all heard that every vote counts, but rarely is this followed by the question ‘how much?’ The answer is ‘not a whole lot.’ Let’s look at Colorado in 2008.
2,362,160 people voted and the total difference between Obama and McCain was 214,992 votes, meaning that if you voted, your vote was 0.000423% of the total vote pool and 0.000465% of the margin between the two presidential candidates. Even the smallest statehouse race – HD 17 – left little doubt. 14,402 voted in the race and the margin was a razor thin 380 votes. In other words, your impact in this race was 0.00694% of the vote pool and 0.263% of the margin between the two candidates.
These are not numbers that scream ‘your vote matters.’
Moral and Civic Duty
But it’s your civic duty! The best moral justification for voting probably comes from Immanuel Kant, and in modern English, it would sound like this: the impact of your vote may be negligible, but if everyone thought that way and no one voted, society wouldn’t function – thus, individuals have a duty to vote in order to ensure a functional democracy. Basically, the moral imperative comes from the votes being aggregated.
This seems appealing, but a deeper look shows this logic still assumes that voting is innately good and valuable, consequently not answering the initial question.
Consider the uneducated voter: if a voter is totally uniformed, it’s possible that his vote does more damage than good. If tons of uneducated voters are encouraged to vote, and subsequently vote for bad policy, it’s possible that their votes actually diminish societal functionality. Kant’s point quickly unravels as the link between voting and societal health is tested and more stipulations about ‘good voters’ get added.
The last defense I’ll discuss tends to sound like this: millions of people fought hard to secure your right to vote, and you owe it to them. The blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors – particularly woman and minorities – shouldn’t be wasted by our generation’s apathy or indifference. Voting for our leaders and laws is something only a minute percentage of the world’s people have ever gotten to do, and it’s more than a privilege to live in democracy.
It’s tough to argue against this point, so I’ll dodge it by claiming that history is contextual. Attaining suffrage isn’t just about voting; it’s about a minority group being recognized as equal and legitimate by those privileged few that conspire to keep them out, it’s about demanding inclusion in a system that ought to include them, and it’s about more than picking candidate x or y. Voting is often a proxy for larger rights and recognitions, meaning that the ‘act of voting’ may not be the most important takeaway. Additionally, in an era of universal suffrage (theoretically), this whole point may be less important.
So why vote? If none of these reasons are bulletproof, why is it important that you vote?
Because it works.
You can’t disrupt a system you don’t engage, and you don’t become empowered by sitting on the sidelines. For better or worse, our government is constantly making critical economic, moral, security, and practical choices. When things are going well, it’s important to continue to engage to maintain success. When things could be better, it’s necessary to engage to get things going. The point is doing nothing does nothing. Voting is the vehicle that keeps government honest and effective, and it is unquestionably the best tool you have to create your ideal civil society.
Some things in life are not meant to be intellectualized, and in the end, voting is a practical concern. History has proven that voting works. And that’s why it’s so important you vote. From the DMV to your social security, from wars to tax policy, the government impacts your life. If you want any say in how that relationship is managed, your vote matters. It’s an action that you do for you – an individual expression. Next Tuesday, don’t forfeit your one of your best chances to impact society–engage at the polls.
What are your thoughts on voting? Is it truly an idea worth spreading?
Brandon Rattiner is a team member of TEDxMileHigh and is currently working as Denver Metro Area Regional Director for US Senator Mark Udall