Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Effectiveness of Voting

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A friend posted this image on Facebook yesterday.  On the surface, it seems obvious:  voting actually does something; arguing is just exchanging words.  Upon further consideration, though, I think this t-shirt has it exactly backwards.

I believe that voting is important.  Realistically, though, the odds that your vote is going to change the outcome of an election is pretty close to zero.  Obviously, if enough people follow that logic, it could change the outcome; but we're just talking about the marginal value of your single vote.

On the other hand, arguing has the chance to convince other people.  Granted, "arguing" implies contentious discussion, which rarely changes any minds.  But "arguing" can also mean presenting a case and reasoning through it, and certainly some people do become convinced by such arguments.

The way that people come to their political beliefs is very interesting and, I believe, worthy of more study than it has received.  Your fundamental beliefs -- what you feel about the issues -- are formed before you ever start to think about them and are probably difficult to change.  To some extent, however, your politics can be flexible around your core beliefs; and sometimes the same values can support diametrically opposed political views.  You are certainly influenced heavily by the beliefs of people around you, especially your friends.  I think that most people's politics are fundamentally based on their environment, but they also have to be at least consistent with their understanding.  In other words, you will tend to follow the beliefs and political views of people around you, but not if your reason tells you that the political views are inconsistent with your beliefs.  Some people will change their politics in accordance with what reason tells them; most, I suspect, will change their logic to justify their politics enough to let them continue with the same outlook.

But people do change their views.  Even very fundamental political ideas can change, and most people haven't thought enough about politics to have ideas that they feel particularly closely associated with.  A well-reasoned argument, along with tact and emotional appeals, can convince someone to change his mind.  And really, that is how the political landscape changes.  (Apart from external changes such as shifting demographics and economics, of course.)  Views that were commonly held two generations ago seem quaint by today's standards, and much of that change has come through people being convinced by arguments.  So I would say that "arguing" with people on the internet, taken in the broadest sense and in the long view, is dramatically more effective than voting.