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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Formula For Voting

What are the reasons for voting?
The basic formula for determining whether someone will vote is
PB + D > C

P is the probability that an individual's vote will affect the outcome of an election,

B is the perceived benefit that would be received if that person's favored political party or candidate were elected.

D originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting.

C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting.

Since P is virtually zero in most elections,

PB is also near zero,

and D is thus the most important element

in motivating people to vote.

For a person to vote, these factors must outweigh C.

(Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy, 1957. The formula itself was developed by William H. Riker and Peter Ordeshook "A Theory of the Calculus of Voting," American Political Science Review. 1968. 62:25-42.)

Riker and Ordeshook developed the modern understanding of D. They listed five major forms of gratification that people receive for voting:

The Five Major Forms of Gratification
People Receive For Voting

1. Complying with the social obligation to vote,

2. Affirming one's allegiance to the political system,

3. Affirming a partisan preference (also known as expressive voting, or voting for a candidate to express support, not to achieve any outcome),

4. Affirming one's importance to the political system, and

5. For those who find politics interesting and entertaining, researching and making a decision.

(Riker and Ordeshook, 1968)

What Does This Formula Suggest?

Social Obligation

With a little more than 50 percent of eligible voters casting ballots in presidential elections, a number that drops to under 40 percent in congressional years, the question is whether people feel a personal compulsion to be involved in the electoral process.

Dennis Prager, American syndicated radio talk show host and author, says, "In America today, much of society holds that we are responsible only to ourselves. We have interiorized everything: We --nothing outside of us -- and how we feel -- not how we behave -- are all that matter in assessing us. As a result, we are witnessing the death of a very important socializing tool -- stigma.

"Stigma means personal accountability to society's standards. It is society's way of declaring something wrong without sending you to prison. In lieu of laws, we have stigma.

"Without accountability to an outside authority or standard, and without stigma, the only remaining responsibility is to self. Self -- which may have once meant one's conscience but now simply means one's feelings -- has become for many people the one standard of behavior: If I feel good, the act is good. I have no accountability to anyone or anything but my feelings.

"The fact is that we rarely care about others' feelings; we care about their behavior."

(Dennis Prager, "The Ameican Tradition of Personal Responsibility," The Heritage Foundation, September 20 1994)

Allegiance to the Political System

The process by which individuals acquire their political opinions is called political socialization. This process begins in childhood, when, through family and school, Americans acquire many of their basic political values and beliefs. Socialization continues into adulthood, when peers, political institutions and leaders, and the news media are major influences.

What really shapes people's allegiance to the political system? One text briefly explains, "Americans' political opinions are shaped by several frames of reference. Four of the most important are ideology, group attachments, partisanship, and political culture. These frames of reference form the basis for political consensus and conflict among the general public." ("Public Opinion and Political Socialization: Shaping the People's Voice," The American Democracy 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2003)

Political socialization in America is a lifelong process that is facilitated by family, schools, peer groups, the media, political leaders and institutions, and churches. For example, children are likely to adopt the political party loyalties of their parents; schools promote civic virtues and loyalty to democratic institutions. Peer groups can help to maintain existing opinions, the media can shape political perceptions, and leaders can guide opinion formation. "Political learning is generally casual and uncritical unless an important event makes a conscious evaluation necessary."

Affirming a Partisan Preference

Partisanship has been proven to be a major source of gratification for voters throughout American political history. Long ago, empirical studies of voting shattered the naive view of the elector as unbiased juror reaching a fresh verdict in each election. Research shows that, on the contrary, many electors had very long-established partisan attachments, which deeply influenced their perception of contemporary candidates, issues, and political events.

The tendency for these dispositions to color the partisan voter’s response to new elements of politics lessens the amplitude of change in the electorate as a whole and tends to increase the stability of party systems. (Robert E. Lane and David O. Sears, 1964)

Affirming One's Importance to the Political System

Everyone has been told how important a single vote may be. And, true, if the right to vote no longer existed, the country would no longer survive as a democratic nation, but completely totalitarian. By not voting, a person gives away his or her right to influence the government overall. More importantly, however, not voting takes away the "will of the majority that governs this country, but [replaces it with] the will of the minority." (Carol I. Smithstein, "Why Bother to Vote at All?" November 7 2005)

Yet, how often has someone's single vote actually swayed an important election? Not very often.

First of all, the national popular vote is not significant in determining the outcome of the United States presidential election. United States Presidents are elected through the Electoral College.

In 1960, the closest Presidential election of the twentieth century occurred. John F. Kennedy (D) defeated Richard Nixon (R) in the national popular vote by just one tenth of one percentage point (0.1%) or 112,827 votes.

Every election year “one-vote lists” appear. Editorial pages become full of entries urging voters to cast a ballot because one vote can make the difference. These lists are published as gospel truths on the Internet and in traditional print media. But, in the vast majority of cases, these lists simply are not true.

For example, Jesse Jackson's speech before the Democratic National Convention on August 15, 2000 stated the following “one vote” myths:

“One vote decided that America would speak English rather than German in 1776. One vote kept Aaron Burr, later charged with treason, from becoming our president. One vote made Texas part of the United States of America in 1845. One vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic.”

Politics Is Interesting and Entertaining

The Kennedy administration blurred the line between politics and entertainment. Ronald Reagan blurred the line even more, using hard-won skills as an actor to convey sincerity, passion, anger.

Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, who has written for movies and politicians, said: ''Politics is now being conducted within the frame of show business. There's no longer any blurry line between show business and politics.''

Consider Kaplan's extensive resume. He is the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the founding director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of the impact of entertainment on society. His uncommonly broad career has also spanned government and politics, the entertainment industry and journalism.

Kaplan served in the administration of President Jimmy Carter as chief speechwriter to Vice President Walter F. Mondale, and also as executive assistant to the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Ernest L. Boyer. As deputy campaign manager of Mondale's presidential race, he directed the campaign's speechwriting, issues, and research operations. He also worked with Boyer on education policy while a program officer at the Aspen Institute, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a senior advisor at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Kaplan worked at the Walt Disney Studios for 12 years, both as vice president of production for live-action feature films, and as a writer-producer under exclusive contract.

Kaplan says that big money and big media have coupled to create a ‘Disney World’ of democracy in which TV shows, televised debates, even news coverage is being dumbed down, just as the volume is being turned up.

"The result is a public certainly more entertained, but less informed and personally involved than they should be," states Marty Kaplan. Kaplan believes that taking news out of the journalism box and placing it in the entertainment box is hurting democracy and allowing special interest groups to manipulate the system.

Kaplan says, “It’s all about combat. If every political issue is [represented by] combat between two polarized sides, then you get great television because people are throwing food at each other. And you have an audience that hasn’t a clue at the end of the story, which is why you’ll hear, ‘Well, we’ll have to leave it there.’”

He continues,“The problem is that there’s not that much information out there if you’re an ordinary citizen. You can ferret it out, but it ought not be like that in a democracy,” Kaplan says. “Education and journalism were supposed to, according to our founders, inform our public and make democracy work.”

("Marty Kaplan on Big Money’s Effect on Big Media, Bill Moyers, April 27 2012)


My Take

The privilege of voting, ideally, is considered essential for democracy and revered as a civic duty of all. In a perfect America, casting a vote demands an open mind, thorough research of the candidates and their platforms, and an informed commitment to make the best decision. Perfect worlds, as we all know, are fantasies.

Today, too few people consider voting an obligation, and many of those who do accept the obligation to vote feel responsible for only themselves and acquiring their own benefits. Instead of considering prospective benefits to groups in need and using their conscience, most voters just consider self.

Few people now receive reinforcement for belief in the political system as a positive force for change. Major distrust of politicians and politics has caused families, schools, peer groups, and the media to look constantly at the downside of the system unless an important event stirs patriotism.

Most people form a partisan preference to one party. They traditionally adopt a party allegiance from their parents, their schools, and their local institutions. Then, when voting, many depend on following the advice of the party to which they are affiliated.

Many people believe their vote just doesn't matter. They tend to see voting unnecessary in a system largely dependent on money and group endorsements. And, in truth, they have been told "one vote can matter" so much, they are immune to any influence the phrase may have.

As politics has become entertainment, solid, insightful information about candidates and issues is tough to find. What information is out there is often "dumbed down" and offered in tiny soundbites. Appearance, presentation, and theatrics have replaced skilled oratory and content. The public has been taught to enjoy the entertainment, including scandals and gaffs, more than to employ political programming as content for open-minded decision making. We live in the day of the spin doctors.

Are you voting this year for reasons of self gratification? Or, are you even voting?

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