More friends privately emailed me about my last blog post (The Problem with Voting) than any post before it, although no blog comments. :(
A few people made a counter argument along the following lines:
One vote doesn't count, but people who think about voting the same way as me likely would think similarly to me on other issues, such as choosing the next president. If lots of people like me decide not to vote the same way I've done, that would be very bad for my interests. If instead we all voted, it would be very good for my interests.
This is a true statement, but it doesn't change the outcome. My voting or not voting has no affect on those other people out there. In statistical terms, each person's decision to vote or not is an independent decision. In economic terms, we see the tragedy of the commons.
The extension is a stronger argument: perhaps my decision is independent, but telling other people my decision and the logic behind it could affect their decision as well. This is certainly possible. If my comments reached alot of people it would have a real effect. You could do even the math: estimate how many people you could reach by discussing my decision, estimate how many might change their mind, and then do the math in my previous post using a larger range of values for the binomial probability density function.
For me, on a very good day, my blog gets about 75 visits. Only about 10% hit my front page, so I may have a 5-person/day reach or so for this post. Between now and November, maybe I'll hit 500 people. Even if all of those people were already going to vote the same way as I would have, and even if I caused them all not to vote, the probability of affecting the election is still tiny. Without doing the full calculation, I could grossly overestimate the probability at 0.000013% x 500 = .0065%, the actual number being much much smaller. If I were a talk show host or a sports star, my chance of having an effect might be more likely, but I'm making very generous assumptions anyway.
The Important Part:
I should have elaborated more on my conclusions before. Voting is participatory, symbolic, and has alot of personal meaning. In the same way that me driving a Prius won't make a dent in climate change, it means something to me to do my little bit. Prius vs. voting isn't that great of a comparison - one vote will have zero affect on the election, one prius will have a tiny but non-zero affect on climate change. I may indeed vote when it comes down to it, but if I end up voting it won't be because I expect to change the outcome, but rather because I want to "feel" that I'm part of the process.
My biggest gripe though is that this is where many people stop (I'm not referring to anyone who emailed me). They vote, and only once every 4 years. They feel that making change is someone else's job, yet they have strong opinions on what that change should be. The real truth is that voting is a pretty ineffective way for anyone to affect change, but there are other very effective ways out there. Not that I couldn't do more myself - I'm certainly black as the kettle, but many kettles are pretending they aren't not black by making *only* symbolic efforts.
My parents are role models in this regard. In 1976, they got involved in the Sierra club in South Carolina, wrote letters and organized and were able to keep Congaree Swamp from being logged, declaring it a National Monument. Later, it became America's 57th National Park. Imagine if all they did was vote for their favorite president and stick a Sierra Club bumper sticker on their car. Things would have been different.