Saturday, December 17, 2011

Convincing the Uninformed Voter

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the stabilizing force of uninformed individuals in the democratic process, this morning I found myself reading Darryl Pinckney’s latest NYRBlog post, “Misremembering Martin Luther King.”  This amounts to a “frank and open” (in diplomat-speak) assessment of Katori Hall’s play about Martin Luther King, The Mountaintop, currently running on Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.  The title of the post says it all, although I am sure that most ticket-holders are there for an in-the-flesh experience of Jackson and Bassett and could care less whether or not they take home any useful knowledge about King.

Reading Pinckney, on the other hand, was a far more informative experience.  The connection to yesterday comes at the very end of his post, when he quotes a passage from the famous “Letter from the Birmingham jail,” which King wrote in 1963.  More specifically Pinckney quoted King’s observation that “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute understanding from people of ill will.”  King’s point is that people of ill will tend to be very good at voicing exactly what they believe and why they believe it in clear language, regardless of whether or not that language may be logically flawed.  People of good will, on the other hand, are more wishy-washy in their argumentation, believing that fundamental goodness is all you need to make your case.

Imagine, now, the following thought experiment:  An uninformed individual is faced with having to make a major decision in the next election.  Give that individual the opportunity to hear what the person of good will has to say, and then provide the same exposure to the person of ill will.  Which one do you think will be more effective in swaying the decision of this hypothetical voter?

1 comment:

jones said...

Voting behavior has a minimal impact on policy in large part because it is primarily a means of legitimating the power structure that both parties rely on for their influence.

An alternative to 3rd party voting, which is often denigrated as "throwing your vote away" is to use voting as a means to coordinate the attitudes of the disaffected -- that is, to use the existing electoral system for a purpose other than installing an individual in office. Such an alternate use of voting would be to vote for yourself as a write in candidate coupled with the advocacy of such a tactic.

The purpose of such a voting tactic is manifold:

1. Focuses on individual initiative rather than rely on some external organization for efficacy

2. If enough people participate, will create a spectacle that the media can't spin.

3. Lets disaffected voters know how many others like them are out there -- a pre-requisite for more organized behavior

4. Vote for what you believe in rather than against what you fear

5. Non-violent

6. Inexpensive

If a prospective participant is afraid of appealing mostly to disaffected democrats, and fears this might tip the election in the favor of a republican, just keep in mind another way of interpreting how close our elections have become:

In 2000, the Florida recount was triggered by statute because less than .5% of votes separated Bush from Gore. If you deny that the election was rigged, you must then accept that an election settled by less than the statistical margin of error by definition says nothing about voter preference. An election so close might as well be settled by chance.

A statistically-significant degree of participation in such an action would be 5% of the popular vote, as this is what is required for federal election matching funds. This could be the youth vote. The purpose is to create a numerical "black hole" that the nation will have to examine, both in terms of voter preferences and with respect to the integrity of the voting system overall.