Should we vote?

Is there a Duty to Vote?

Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky


In this paper, the authors try to explain why voting is no better than abstaining. They argue that while voting is generally accepted as a duty citizens owe to their country and communities, it may actually do more harm than good.

Their first argument states that educating and researching all of the information that one needs to be a well-informed voter has an opportunity cost. To understand which policies will work the best, and to do one’s best service to one’s country, being informed is crucial, especially when the plans that governments execute will have a material impact on the future of one’s country. Take the recent general election as to whether the Labour or Conservative (or a coalition) mandate for the country was better. The time this takes has an opportunity cost where other things could be done such as speaking with one’s friends, reading novels or indeed working to gain more money. This opportunity cost they argue outweighs the benefits it has for the country.

This is for a variety of reasons. Primarily, it is due to that fact that in most elections, no one is certain as to what plan of action will be best for the country. There are often experts of both sides backing a certain plan of action and fervent supporters that think that any other way will lead to catastrophe. There is rarely a consensus as to which candidate one should vote for to bring about the best outcome and if there was, there would be no need to vote at all.

Finally, you should put your own knowledge to the test. Is your knowledge of foreign policy, economics and governmental administration sufficient that you can make a proper choice? You many have hidden biases or other issues that make your understanding of issues invalid. If you acknowledge these shortcomings of your own knowledge, your “duty” is to in fact abstain and not pollute the polls by casting a vote that may damage the future of your country.

Overall the for these reasons, it is clear that voting is not in fact necessarily a duty to your country but can harm it instead. What do you think about these arguments though? Try and make your case with your friends and see what they think or come to MUN or debating.

Polluting the Polls; When citizens should not vote – Brennan – 30 mins

In this paper, Brenan sets out reasons as to why he thinks that bad voters should not vote. This idea is based on 3 major ideas; 1 that bad voters voting leads to bad policies for society as a whole 2 not voting is a form of voting 3 not voting isn’t ant-democratic

Though a voter voting badly may cause the voter to feel involved in democracy, the negative impact that he and others impose on others means that society is less prosperous, involved itself in unnecessary laws and had unjust laws. However, if one bad voter stops the problem it doesn’t go away. This means collectively bad voters should abstain from voting.  He defines bad voting as acting though immoral beliefs, ignorance and bias. These people should not vote as they will cancel out good votes and decrease the likelihood and a good outcome of an election.

As you are starting to see, though, not voting is a way of voting. Take the example of you and some friends wanting to go to a good restaurant, but you are not experienced in choosing good ones. If you abstain and let others decide who know how to choose well, then you are in fact voting for the best option as determined by this well-informed electorate. In acknowledging you cannot vote well; you vote for the best outcome.

This is not anti-democratic. Just because one has the right to vote, does not mean that they need to carry out that right. You have a right to argue sexist views, but that does not mean you should. Additionally, in that same way that you do not have to become a surgeon, but if you do you should be a good one; if you want to vote, then you should have to be well informed. Though some may see not exercising one’s power is equivalent to not having it, as long as people are legally entitled to vote and chose not to of their own accord, such a system is in fact conducive to a successful democracy. This is because the decisions that are made would increase economic standards, pass just laws et.c.

Overall, abstention from the poll is democratic, leads to better decisions for a democracy and is also a way of ensuring that one’s wishes for improvements in society are successfully carried out.

Do you think that this conclusion is correct or not? Whatever your point of view, feel free to add it into the comments section.

Geoffrey Brennan and Geoffrey Sayre-McCord

Voting and Casual responsibility


In this paper, the authors look at different theories that explain why and if people should engage in educating themselves in politics and vote. The Rational Choice Theory (RCV) model and the Goldman/tuck model for voting are compared and the author decides that the former best explains voting behaviour.

The rational choice theory model is a model that says that the way people assess whether they should vote or not depends on the likelihood that they will be a pivotal vote in whatever situation they vote for. It uses this is a broad sense in determining which people are necessary for the certain outcome of an election by saying that the set of people that tipped the election in either way is necessary for a certain victory or loss. As the number of the people voting goes up, the chance that one will be part of this sense goes down inversely by this theory.

The implications that this theory has for voter behaviour are immense. It would suggest that (especially in close run election), the desire to seek information for voting is minimal and even to vote is minimal as rational voters understand the likelihood of them being part of the necessary set or “causally efficacious” as they put it. There are many other implications which I wonder if you can derive from the rationale of this theory.

The Goldman/Tuck theory for voter behaviour is very different. It sees people as “causally efficacious” if they are part of the people that voted for the winning side. This means that there are far higher odds being so, as the odds increase proportional to the number of votes that are made.

The implications that this has for voter behaviour is that voters should seek out information on political issues as they have high chances of being responsible and necessary for the election and also that self-interest will play a larger role as what they want will be as high a chance of occurring …

Then this paper proceeds to come up with problems with the Goldman/tuck view by pointing out the problems of encouraging people to support a winner as opposed to the best candidate to be responsible and relevant in that election.

Another issue is that the Goldman/tuck theory wants to encourage people to better educate themselves and want to vote. However, if the pride of voting for the winning candidate is outweighed by the guilt of voting for the wrong one, people may in fact want to abstain. This among other reasons is why this paper argues that the RCV is the best way to understand what voter behaviour is and should be.

This affects the reasons that people vote by making them interested in the country’s interest as the likelihood of their vote and opinion being counted for are so low that they should vote for the country instead. 

Do you think that this conclusion is correct or not? Whatever your point of view, feel free to add it into the comments section.

By Gabriel Daudy

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