Why People Vote

I was reflecting on Allan Hoffenblum's blog about low turnout in June.  He poses a question about whether voter apathy or disgust it the main cause.  Like him I don't have easy answers.  But I will pose the same question in a slightly different way.  Rather than asking why did people choose not to vote, consider the inverse, why do people choose to vote.

The academic research has shown that for most people it is not to feel good.  Most people don't vote out of civic pride.  Rather they vote to avoid feeling bad.  It is an act of social accountability.  Apathy and disgust both eat away at this by weakening these social pressures to participate.

However, this reversed line of inquiry reveals the most problematic component of falling turnout rates: they are self reinforcing.  The decision to go to the polls cannot be treated as an individual binary decision: Individual X either voted or they did not.  Rather, when one voter decides to vote, it increases the likelihood of all other voters voting by increasing the social pressure to participate.  Similarly, every time a voter chooses not to participate, it impacts not only them, but every other voter as well by marginally reducing the social pressure for them to participate.

This self-reinforcing decline in the incentive to participate is one of the single greatest threats to American democracy.  It is one with no easy answers.  But in a business where politicos often demand social accountability from others, from big business to individuals, we have a similar obligation in our own profession to address.