Why won’t some people vote today?

Why won’t some people vote in today’s election? Apathy? Too self-centered? Too busy? Or, will many people not vote because they choose to remain “rationally ignorant”?

Rationally ignorant means making a rational decision not to spend much time evaluating candidates or issues because taking that time doesn’t assure the voter any greater chance of getting what he or she wants than would flipping a coin. Think about it.

In the marketplace it’s rational to spend the time evaluating alternative products or services you wish to purchase. Once you spend the time deciding between, say, a Chevy and a Ford, you get the car you decided upon. Not so in an election.

In an election, we have no assurance we’ll get the candidate we decide upon, no matter how long and hard we research the issues. Why? Because every other voter is making a choice also, and we only get ours if a majority — or plurality — of them agree with what we decide. Since our time and energy are limited, it’s rational for us to remain somewhat ignorant about political candidates and issues.

We generally can’t afford to acquire complete information about goods or services we buy either, but in the marketplace we have a much higher expectation of getting what we want. Exhortations to our civic duty are fine and good, but every one of us has limited time and energy and must set some priorities in our lives.

So don’t think too badly about your non-voting neighbors. Assume that they chose to remain rationally ignorant, deciding to make more of their decisions in the marketplace, and fewer in the polling place.

And isn’t a system where most people get what they want more appealing than one where half of us are disappointed?


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.

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Posted by at 12:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 10 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jack Roberts

    Well said! I’ve long held that same view of many non-voters. It isn’t that they are lazy or stupid; it’s just that they have other priorities in their lives or they don’t really have well-formed opinions on political candidates or issues and thus are perfectly happy to leave the decision to those who do care.

    That’s called choice, people! I’ve always wondered why some folks think it’s so terrible that a lot of apathetic or uninformed citizens don’t nonetheless take the time to cast their vote based on which candidate has the better sounding name or appears in what order on the ballot or who has the better picture in the voter’s pamphlet.

    I can’t understand people who go shopping instead of watching the Super Bowl either, but I don’t think they are being irresponsible or evil because they make that choice. And the fact is, forcing those people to watch the Super Bowl and having them either root for the wrong team or cheer at the wrong time does far less harm than having apathetic or ignorant voters cast an uninformed ballot.

    • Stephan Andrew Brodhead for Congress

      As Conservatives, we must get the youth vote out. I have started a website targetted at the youth vote. When i am finished, there will be a blog and guest column. You can see my website starter page at http://www.TheYoungerVoter.com late .info,.net,.org….. We need the young vote.

  • Tim Lyman

    As opposed to the many voters who are irrationally ignorant?

    The lament I hear from most non-voters is that their vote doesn’t make a difference – either due to a perceived lack of difference between the candidates/parties or out of the conviction that once elected, politicians will do what they want without regard for the will of the voters.

    Republicans have done a fine job lately of erasing any distinction between themselves and Democrats, other than the Iraq war, and have even taken on some of the less desirable traits of the Democrat party – increasing the size and scope of government, deficit spending and pork barrel spending. They seem to be deaf to the desires of their constituency re: spending, immigration and energy.

    The Democrats in Oregon continue to trample the rights of voters through evisceration of the initiative system and disregard for voter approved initiatives they don’t like. As this doesn’t seem to have hurt them in the polls at all, they have no disincentive to keep from doing more of the same.

  • RinoWatch

    What concerns me more than anything are those who are “Rationally ignorant”, as to the candidates and issues, and vote in spite of their ignorance.

    Over the years many have contacted me just before an election to ask me about issues & candidates. It would be so easy for me to sway them to my way of thinking but instead I suggest that they spend some time learning on there own or abstain.

    I believe that an ignorant vote is worse than an abstention.

    • RinoWatch

      ..learning on *their* own….

  • John in Oregon

    Along the same lines and looking at the situation from another prospective.

    You vote for the Governor candidate who won’t raise taxes. He wins and raises taxes.

    There is an issue on the planning commission agenda you don’t agree with. You walk the neighborhood for a few days and gather 1,043 signatures of your neighbors. You and a few of the neighbors go down to the meeting arriving early so have to wait for the doors to open. As the doors open you find 10 people already on the list to speak. You sign up and notice several side conversations with commissioners as the meeting is called to order. For the next hour you notice those same people are called from the list to testify, each getting 5 minutes. After nearly an hour hearing comments in support of the “wonderful” idea you finally get a chance to speak. The chair announces time is short, comments limited to 1 minute. You notice the commissioners talking among themselves as you attempt to abbreviate to explain why you and the neighbors oppose the project. The chair says that all the time we have, all opposed, bang, next item.

    You collect signatures to put an item on the ballot. Your signature along with others is rejected and the measure fails to get on the ballot. You ask why and are told you are not registered to vote. You show your voters card, you show ID and point to your name on the voter rolls. The clerk says sorry I can’t change my decision.

    A bond measure is voted down overwhelmingly. The project is built anyway.

    You collect signatures a second time. With 5 times the necessary signatures it has just enough signatures and makes the ballot to pass by 60% A lawsuit throws the measure out.

    You finally get the message. They really aren’t interested.

    • RinoWatch

      Your comment is so right on!

      Things aren’t gonna get any better in this state with Kate Brown as Secretary of State either. We can just about kiss the initiative process good-bye.

      Proof of Citizenship to Vote, LOL. (Yeah-Yeah it may receive a winning vote in November but the Marion Co. “Circus” court will throw it out)

      I heard it said last night – Oregon IS the most Liberal state in the USA!
      NO S&%*!

      • eddie

        Hey, I think the saying on Capital Hill is:

        “As goes Oregon, so goes France.”

        • John in Oregon

          “As goes Oregon, so goes France.”

          Does that work in reverse???

          France went conservative !!

  • Crawdude

    Well, if the poll I did with the kids I work with last night says anything, they didn’t vote because they were to lazy to fill out the ballot, lol!

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