Why Don’t (More) Americans Vote?
If you’re American, there’s a good chance you are not going to vote in the upcoming presidential election. In 2016, only 58% of the electorate actually voted. Compared to other democracies, voter turnout in the United States doesn’t even break the top 20. Americans just don’t vote. And it’s been that way since the early 1900s.
So what’s going on?
Well, first of all, let’s do some math to prove that you shouldn’t ever vote.
Here’s an equation for you:
PB + D > C
Where “P” is the probability your vote will affect the outcome of the election.
“B” is the benefits of a favorable outcome.
“D” is duty, or civic duty or any perceived gratification you get from voting.
And finally, “C” is cost. This is the time, effort, and financial cost of going through the voting process.
So in an election like the US presidential election where millions of people are voting, the probability that your individual vote will be the vote that decides the next president is essentially nil.
So we can call “P”, zero.
Times that by “B” and that makes the entire variable zero.
Therefore, what we’re left with is our civic duty vs. the effort of voting. It’s difficult to measure exactly how much we get out of performing our civic duty so we can never have a precise number for that variable. But the costs are much more salient. It takes time to go to the voting booth. We have to take off work. We have to make sure we are registered, and depending on the state, you need proper identification — which takes even more time and effort.
So if everyone is a self-interested, rational actor, voting just isn’t worth it.
This is called the Paradox of Voting.
Thankfully, human beings are hardly ever rational.
As the math says, the decision to vote is a balancing act between our desire to fulfill our civic duty and the personal cost of making the effort to vote. So any barrier, however minor, that…