Battered Voter’s Syndrome

Warning: sociopolitical analytical post.
This is part one of a two part series. The question for this post is: “Why don’t Americans vote?” The analysis is broader than the U.S., however and can be applied to any large western country.

Why don’t people vote?

The reasons are many, but they all boil down to lack of time, lack of confidence, lack of information and lack of expectations. In other words, people don’t know the system, don’t have time to know the system, don’t trust the system and don’t think there is any way they can effect the system. Psychologists call this ‘learned helplessness.’

If you take a dog and put him in a room where he is electrocuted and nothing he does can change that, he will learn to accept it and– when there is a chance to change it all– he won’t. Because he has learned to accept that he cannot change anything.
“Learned helplessness” offered a model to explain human depression, in which apathy and submission prevail, causing the individual to rely fully on others for help. This can result when life circumstances cause the individual to experience life choices as irrelevant.
Am I saying that non-voters are depressed? In a certain form of the word, yes. But I liken it to another phenomenon that psychologists equate with learned helplessness. Battered Person’s Syndrome.

The next three paragraphs explain that there are too many friggin’ people in the United States and too few representatives and how this came about. You can skip them if you don’t want to hear any psychohistory.

When the United States was founded, there were only three ways to get information: newspapers, travelers and word of mouth (usually from other ignorant people). Newspapers, having little access to outside information, reported on local events and people grew to care about these events.

People had more time then because they did not have any of the modern ‘time-savers’ that we have now that allow us to do more things more quickly, but also increase our desire to do these things. With the advent of technologies, newspapers saw ways to decrease overhead and offer valuable information to their audiences. I’m speaking of course, of the Associated Press, but also radio and television in general in the years afterward.

Suddenly, it was more cost-effective to print national information rather than local, what’s more: people responded better because they thought they were learning about more important things.

Unfortunately, the politicians who can affect people’s lives the most are always the local politicians: there’s less attention, less regulation and more autonomy. Ten thousand minimum wage increases will pass before the national government concurs and each one of them will come as a surprise to the majority of the people affected by it.


Because it’s easier to access information about national races — races that don’t really affect you– than local races. Because people think they can see the effects of national and international decisions easier than local politics (which could be argued effectively). Because people find themselves unable to sway the course of the state, let alone the country with their measly vote.

So they don’t vote.

They could vote or not vote and the result (at the national level) will be the same.

Which leads to terrible conclusions like Politician A winning over Politician B by twelve votes in a town of 150,000 people. Twelve votes doesn’t even cover the margin of error. Twelve votes is just so many flips of the coin (Rosencrantz be damned!).
What’s the solution?

Vote local.

I’ll explain the why and the how in the next post.

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