When an election day approaches, social media explodes with comments about the importance of showing up to vote. However, the impact of voting must be compared with that of other daily activities. My thesis is that voting is overvalued, and that daily with comparable effects are undervalued. In this post I will explore why.
First, what is voting? In a democratic election, everyone is given one token. A person then must choose how to assign this token, from a very small list of options. Votes are tallied, and the winner is now entitled to a given power for some period of time.
We can draw a parallel with other limited resources that we allocate every day, and that benefit the recipients in similar ways. The most obvious ones to me are money and attention. Every day I have a certain amount of dollars to spend, and I choose how to spend them from a very large number of options. The recipient(s) of my money then get a certain amount of energy that will benefit them. From a basic perspective this is no different from voting. I am sure there is a way to convert monetary contributions to a political party into votes earned; there must be a dollar value to buying myself an extra vote for the political party of my choice. However, this is not something that politicians like to talk about because it undermines the basic idea of “one person, one vote.”
Political parties aside, every purchase I make is a vote for a business or an industry. If I am feeling lazy and I do not want to cook, I can choose to vote for Doordash. If I do not want to take public transportation, I can vote for Uber. Giving power to those companies is as meaningful in terms of societal change as anything else. We are saying “I want these services to exist and thrive:” every time we give them money. Note that this money has a very direct effect compared to a vote. They receive it instantly, and can use it to fulfill a need right away. On the other hand, voting has a delay in that it takes a while to translate into power (assuming the recipient of the vote wins).
The same is true of attention. We all have a limited amount of mental bandwidth we can spend on a given day. I can choose to read a book, browse social media, engage in discussions with strangers, watch Youtube videos, like Instagram posts. Every one of these actions benefits the recipient of my attention, because attention has monetary value. Every time I acknowledge the message of a politician, I am saying “what this person says matters.” By saying this, I am giving this person credibility which translates into power.
The conclusion is that the easiest way to vote against something you do not like is to not engage with it. If you think a service or product should not exist, do not give them your money. Instead of giving them your attention by criticizing them, vote for opposing alternatives with your money and your attention. Voting for what you want is much more effective than voting against what you do not.