What if Nobody Voted?

When I tell people I don't vote, after the other person calms down they always ask the same gotcha question. "what if everybody did that?"

This is a really strange response since I don't make other decisions in my life based on the consequences if everybody made that same decision.
Get in an elevator - "what if everybody did that?" the elevator would plummet from all the weight! Binge drink - "what if everybody did that?" then pregnant mothers all around the world would binge drink and the rate of miscarriages around the world would skyrocket!  Jump - "what if everybody did that" we might tilt the earth's axis out of whack and destroy life on the entire planet!

We should make the decision to vote or not the same way we make other decisions in our life. Not, "what if everybody did that?" but, "what if 1 more person did that?"

I don't get in elevators that are already too crowded. I look and see what other people are doing and make my decision accordingly. Over 100,000,000 people vote in U.S. presidential elections. That's an elevator it makes no sense to get on. Researchers like Nate Silver did the math, if you're lucky enough to live in an important state the odds of your vote making a difference is 1 in 10,000,000. If you're average it's more like 1 in 60,000,000. It makes as much sense to play the lottery to make money as it does to vote to affect political outcomes.

San Francisco if you vote
San Francisco if you don't vote
I'm not saying everybody should vote or nobody should vote. What I'm saying is more precise. Everybody should run the same script - make a reasonable prediction about how many other people are going to vote, then ask, "if 1 more person voted would that vote be impactful enough to pay the time and energy to vote?" If yes then vote. If no then don't vote. If everybody ran that same script then voter turnout would be at a place where the next vote wouldn't be worth 1 more person's time and energy, but the last vote would be worth 1 more person's time and energy.

"What if everybody did that?" is a fallacy, so why is it so appealing when we talk about voting? I have no way of getting into people's heads, but Democratic Fundamentalism looks like the best candidate to me. It at least explains why people get so mad when you explain the math of voting.


This post is about voting; one of society's most sacred rituals. Other examples like this include:

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