“Voters quickly forget what a man says.” ~ Richard Nixon
With all the talk of voter identification and the perils it poses to the voting rights of so many people, we often forget many political contests boil down to glorified popularity contests. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not the case for every voter. There are those who vote based on a careful analysis of the issues. However, we often hear of people who support candidates because of a feeling in their “gut” or because the candidate is someone they could have a beer with. This type of mentality many times leads to situations where the person best suited for the job ends up losing out to a less qualified, but more likable opponent. While its important to be aware of the troubles such a trend can cause, it is equally vital we understand the reason this phenomenon occurs.
Becoming an informed voter is hard. Every race: from the local city council to the president election involves a number of complex issues the average person can’t hope to be an expert in. An entire lifetime could be spent on the study of just one of the many issues our elected officials influence. Furthermore, getting credible information on a topic is nigh impossible with the amount of spin floating around the airwaves, leaving us with the views of the candidates and their assessment of policy as our main sources of information. Which would not be a problem, except in most cases the two people running for office have diametrically opposed views on how things should be done. Which is why we have elections in the first place. All this information floating around in the air makes it extremely hard to do the necessary research to properly vet a candidate, thus causing many of us to fall back on how they makes us feel rather than whether they are best prepared to do the job. Which brings us to the next point…
Voters are emotional creatures. As I mentioned in a previous post, a great deal of emotion goes into our decision-making. Whether we like it or not, it affects every aspect of our life. So it should come at no surprise, that when we are at the ballot box many of us follow our hearts rather than our minds. Voting this way often causes us to pass over the logical fit for the position based solely on factors like likability and whether or not we trust the person. While not completely unimportant, when it comes to choosing our elected officials, other elements like their expertise on the issues and whether they have a plan for making the changes needed should probably take precedence. At least that’s how I feel anyways.
The popular vote is about one thing, popularity. There is a reason most companies do not hold elections for the positions they need to hire. At their core, they are about representing what the majority of people like. Whether it be favorable stances on issues or the person themselves, voting is about choosing preferences. While it would be ideal if desire and merit lined up every time, it’s just not the case. From birth until the day we die, we are put in situations where we are asked to choose an ideal circumstance or object. Sometimes we do the right thing, and choose things like exercise and healthy diets over ice cream and naps on the couch, even though we would probably prefer the latter. However, much of the time we make decisions based on what feels the best on an individual level. Making it no surprise that when it comes to electing our representatives we are drawn to the one we could see ourselves befriending.
What does this say about our political system? Is it broken? Should we abolish our democracy immediately and establish the “First Galactic Empire?” Probably not (besides we all know how that story ends). Instead, we should focus on being as informed on the issues as our schedules and lives will allow. Pushing for enhanced educational opportunities for all citizens of this country so they are better equipped to assess the candidates who are vying to represent them. We must check our emotional response with this informed, logical decision-making. Lastly, we must be willing to sacrifice instant gratification for representatives and policies that are in the best interest of the greater good. After all, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”