TL;DR I’m a young political pollster and there’s a reason to vote most people don’t know about: those who vote get polled – and polling drives our politics more than most realize.
You’ve been taught that your vote is important.
But, for voters outside of swing states or for those generally disenchanted with the political process, participation drops off. However, there’s another reason to vote you don’t know about.
I’m a young pollster. In my few short years in the political industry I’ve come to understand something most people don’t realize: voters influence much more than elections. Politicians and political groups field polls of registered voters year-round, not just during elections, and these data points are a driving force in Washington.
It didn’t used to be this way. The postscript to Eric Redman’s Aaron Sorkin-esque novel The Dance of Legislation (1973) – required reading for most political science freshmen – says it best. Reflecting on his belief as a young man that government was a proactive force that led the nation, he wrote, “Today, the reverse seems more nearly correct: change in the land produces movement (if we’re lucky) in Washington D.C.”
That is, Washington today is reactionary. The politics of Capitol Hill, the White House, and political campaigns nationwide are driven primarily by polling data.
Politics has learned well from business that data is king. On a daily basis, polling data steers the political policy and rhetoric of the United States in the 21st century. And who’s opinions are counted on these polls? The opinions of registered voters.
Simply put, the roughly 50 percent of eligible voters who vote comprise the defacto ruling elite of the American experiment. Those who abstain from voting are not polled, they are not counted and they are quickly forgotten.
Anyone who says they aren’t voting as a means of protest are fooling themselves.
If you wish to make any sort of statement, you must cast a ballot, even if you leave it blank. Blank votes are counted, and those voters are polled. Politicians will listen to all voters, even those that cast blank ballots.
It’s time we saw voting as more than a choice – as campaigns would have us believe – but as act that is virtuous in and of itself. It’s not about party, or candidate, it’s about showing up. When you cast your vote: Blank, Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian or otherwise, you acknowledge you are part of the American community, you call yourself my brother or my sister, and you ensure your voice will be heard on election day and throughout the year.
It feels like things are broken beyond fixing, but it will only truly be broken when we walk away.
The candidates and our government may be the problem, but those who walk away will never be part of the solution.