The Last Acceptable Bigotry: Hatred of Non-Voters – Opting Out

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In the liberal west in 2019, admitting that you don’t vote is like casually admitting at a family gathering that you harbor the desire to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It wouldn’t be as if you’ve professed your love for Adolf Hitler, but close. At best, your embarrassed aunt will take an unnecessarily long sip of her tea and change the subject. At worst, your interlocutors will stare a hole through you, and you might get their hairdryer treatment: “Don’t you know that people died for your right to vote!? You’re giving up your right to complain!”

It is, so far, not illegal to refrain from voting (except in Australia), and non-voters are not in danger of being lynched for their behavior (again, so far), but not voting is nonetheless severely frowned upon. I’m not talking those who simply forget to vote, or choosing to vote in particular cases for incidental reasons (there is at least a strong minority of people that don’t vote for whatever reason each election time), but people who don’t vote ever. On principle. Admitting of this behavior will lose you more friends than converting to Islam.

Most trendies can forgive their parents for not voting, since they probably wouldn’t vote the right way anyway, but they really hate it when someone who thinks about politics very carefully and has strong, principled stances on all the issues, nonetheless chooses not to vote. It is anger plus incredulity; they find it personally offensive that you would “give up your voice.”

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Many genuinely believe they are making a difference by voting. Anybody who thinks on this subject for five minutes knows this is in fact not the case. Even though the elected leader is decided by the aggregate of voters, one’s individual vote will almost certainly not affect the outcome. This blatant fact is lost on people who in day-to-day life are surprisingly capable and lucid.

The reason they don’t take those five minutes is because the lie is pleasant. It feels nice to be in control, first of all, and secondly, it gives them a sense of community involvement. Individuals, groups and families make a day of it, take a pilgrimage to their local church or town hall, perform the ritual, share it on social media possibly, and walk out with their “I voted” badge. I’m not knocking the values — it’s simply misplaced.

Voters will remind you in a motherly tone that it’s not hard to take 15 minutes to get to your local polling station and mark an X in a box. I absolutely agree. You pay very little for quite a big gain. Our disagreement is simply on the specific effect of this X. Voters think the X means societal change, when in fact the major benefit to the individual in voting is that it’s flattering. Voters incur the small cost of inconvenience for that woosh of dopamine from the illusion that one is making a difference.

Plus, the approval from those who also support the candidate they voted for is not to be underestimated. 90% of electoral politics is like a team sport anyway, so not going through with the vote when the time comes kind of defeats the point. You’re not going to impress your politically-involved friends if you don’t mark that X and plaster it all over social media.

“It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just make your voice heard!” is a hilarious lie. Those who tell you this are very invested in whom you vote for, otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it. If they thought that everyone who was not already going to vote were going to change their minds only to vote for the other guy, they’d shut their traps. Make no mistake, they want you to vote for their guy.

To embarrass the “it doesn’t matter who” theory, ask the voter in your life who they’re voting for, and then say, “Okay, I’ve heard your argument; I’ve changed my mind and will vote. I’m going to vote for… “ and then name the candidate they hate the most. If you want to be an uber troll, actually do it and send them a picture of your X next to whoever gets under their skin the most. This is one of only two reasons it makes a bit of sense to vote.

(The only other reason why it sort of makes sense to vote is “voting on principle,” which accepts that one’s individual vote means diddly squat, yet permits it based on “what is right” or making a moral statement. Though in such a scenario, it seems from my perspective a bit silly to restrict your options to those already written on the ballot. Knowing that your vote will not affect the outcome, you may as well vote for literally the best person for the job. That was partly the motivation for me in a British local election in 2012, the last time I ever entered a polling booth, and the last time I ever will, when I wrote in the American anarchist economist Murray Rothbard, who died in 1995.)

Considering the amount of emotional investment people have in the vote, the fury directed towards principled non-voters makes a lot of sense. Democracy, the belief that institutionalized violence is legitimized by a vote, is the last religion we are not permitted to criticize, meaning non-voter hate is the last acceptable bigotry.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.