Monday, November 10, 2014

A Plea for Rationality during Elections

Many variables exist when people vote or don’t vote during elections, very few of them having to do with rationality.

People often vote with their gut, a strong feeling about who or what is right or wrong. There are many studies about voting behaviors and at least one party seems to do a great job at convincing voters to vote sometimes against their own best interests, geniuses at marketing and playing upon people’s fear, and perhaps upon their hope and greed.

We all want the American Dream.  If the 1% has a bunch of money, then we want to vote for leaders who represent the 1% because we think that we may be able to achieve that Dream, too.  Unfortunately, these candidates are beholden to those wealthy 1% and will vote for tax benefits for them while asking for more taxes from the middle class and the poor. How does that  sync up with the best interests of the middle class or the poor?  What about voting for what is good for everyone and not just for what I think is good for me?  

Recently, Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse, Vanderbilt philosophy professors, spoke to the League of Women Voters about their new book, Why We Argue (And How We Should): A Guide to Political Disagreement. They discuss how we act upon beliefs about controversial moral issues. We watch and listen to the media. We devour sound bites without educating ourselves about what is real, factual and true.

Much brain research suggests that our first impressions about people are solid and don’t often change, even when we are presented with hard, cold facts.  Aikin and Talisse describe how we are influenced by the positive charisma of certain personalities.  If we watch a debate, we often believe what the most charismatic individual says even if he or she is inaccurate. Charm and even candidates’ good looks can win races on both sides of the aisle. We vote for the person or party much of the time and not about ideas or a platform of issues and planned actions.

Our country elects its leaders with a majority, so that a large portion of voters who voted against an elected candidate are miserable and dissatisfied, leading to terrible voter morale. Why vote at all?

It is a hard job to be an educated voter and election outcomes are highly influenced by the actions of those who don’t vote.  Tennessee recently had the lowest voter turnout except for Texas.  Why is that? 

Maybe partly because the poor can’t easily take 3 hours off from their jobs to vote. New early voting restrictions and voter ID laws rule out many, and some seem not to care.  Are we willing to live with laws decided by only 1/3 of our eligible voters?

Let’s do the hard work. Let’s look at all the facts, make rational decisions, and help everyone vote.

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