Why People Don’t Vote — Q and A

Here are some questions that were posed in the April 21 On-Line forum about “The 40% Solution: How to get those citizens who don’t vote. We are open to more questions; just e-mail arthur@politicalintroverts.com.

Q: Is there a certain demographic of non-voters we should target? [Jean Dugan – STL League of Women Voters]

A:  This is a tough question because it really depends on your reason for asking. Let me posit four possibilities with suggested answers to each:

  1. You are asking because you want to promote democracy. In this case, you probably want to get the most likely non-voters to flip the switch and vote. This would be regardless of their political persuasion. I would suggest that political introverts would be a good group to target, because with our current “shut-down,” it is within the power of politicians to communicate in more of a “quiet” way to them.Another group would be those who are angry. We see that on both the left and the right. Anger is a good motivator as opposed to apathy which by definition is never a motivator. Conventional wisdom is that college-educated non-voters would be a good demographic to target, but their reasons for not voting may be more philosophical than laziness. It is my contention that if we want more people to vote, we need to reform schools so that students naturally identify with the political process and come to see engaging in politics is the way to promote their own interests as well as that of society as a whole?
  2. You are asking because you want to benefit the Democratic Party. In recent years, Democrats have appealed to identity groups, racial minorities, women, the young, the elderly, the economically disenfranchised, others whose civil liberties have been abrogated. Democrats indeed try to reach these groups by trying to offer something to virtually every one of these groups. But one of the great failings of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 was insufficient appeal to what she called “the basket of deplorables.” FDR would have referred to them as the core to his base, blue-collar workers.Democrats need to understand that the FDR base, which has now morphed in part to the Trump base, is just another minority among the patchwork of groups that make up the body politic. Appealing to white working class voters and non-voters is not mutually exclusive from working to enlarge the traditional bases of modern Democrats. Bernie did that well; others can as well. Most policies advocated by Democrats will be of economic benefit to any subsection of Americans. Therefore, it is wise for them to appeal to all.
  3. You are asking because you want to benefit the Republican Party. In 2016, Donald Trump brought many people who previously had rarely or never voted into his coalition. Most of these people were white, not well-educated, and struggling economically. Many were also angry, and also lived by what Kellyanne Conway called “alternative facts.” Quite frankly, they were fodder for a demagogue. There are more of these people who did not vote in 2016 and who could join the ranks of voters in the future.Reaching them is a key part of Trump’s strategy. However, if you are a non-Trumpian Republican, you have to find other strategies. These probably include appealing to wealthy people who think that the best way for them to remain wealthy is through “trickle-down” economics as well as others who may subscribe to a “rational non-hateful libertarian” philosophy.
  4. You are from a third (or other alternative) party. The answer here depends on what issues are most important to your party and how you think that you can interest non-voters in joining your ranks. The Green Party has a natural constituency in environmentalists, but the party has a long record of not winning, in fact, not even coming close to winning elections (though at times play the role of spoilers as Ralph Nader did in Florida in 2000).If we change our system of voting, it will be friendlier to third parties and beyond. In Political Introverts, we mention Ranked Choice Voting. This makes it much easier for alternative parties to thrive, while still vesting considerable power in the two major parties. Andy Bossie and Anna Kellar are both very knowledgeable about Ranked Choice Voting with information on the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections web site. – Response from Arthur

Q:  What is the biggest misconception about people who are introverted. [Anonymous]

A: The biggest misconception is that introverts do not like people. The general belief is that extroverts get energy from being with others and introverts get energy from solitude or quiet environments with one or two people. The truth is all people get energy and feel better after being with others. This information was discovered through a study quoted in Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. Introverts struggle with high levels of stimulation, which may or may not come from people. – Response from Brenda

Q: Can you name any current, well-known elected officials who you would call introverts? [Anonymous]

A: From Brenda: First one to come to mind is Barack Obama. Some say Hilary Clinton is also an introvert. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, also fits the description of an introvert. A former Trump administration official referring to Trump and McConnell, said, “It would be hard to find two people less alike in temperament in the political arena.” McConnell is known for saying as little as possible but thinking a lot. – Response from Brenda

A: From Arthur: Technically, he may not be current, but the first who comes to mind is Barack Obama. He is a prolific writer, and thrives on loneliness when he is doing that. My hunch is that when he was making policy, he rarely made decisions in a group; rather he would take in others’ ideas and then make his choices in solitude. We’ll learn more about that when his memoirs come out, hopefully shortly after the 2020 election.

Others who might lean towards being more introverted than not might include Montana Governor (and Senate candidate) Steve Bullock, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot – but these are all conjecture; labeling is clearly an inexact science. – Response from Arthur

Q: What can we do to get more people to vote in this pandemic? [Anonymous]

A: There is a natural connection between “stay-at-home” life and vote-by-mail.” There are five states in which vote-by-mail is not only legal; it is the norm (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah). Since many voters in these states are currently living domesticated lives, it is likely that they would have ample time to vote from home. Interest level should be high because so much of what happens in their lives is determined by governmental decisions. However, returning their ballots to election authorities may be a hurdle. Most voters would have to venture out to a mailbox, post office, or Ballot DropBox (similar to mailboxes). Some would be able to avoid even leaving their homes if they have one of those mailboxes in which they can leave outgoing mail for pick-up.

In other states, many voters can request absentee ballots. But that is different from vote-by-mail because rather than automatically receiving a ballot at home, these voters have to request the ballot. Also, states vary in terms of what are valid reasons for voting absentee and whether the ballots need to be notarized.

For those who would vote by going to the polls, there will be countervailing forces. Many will be reluctant because of the risk of coming in contact with other voters or poll workers who might be infected with COVID-19. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine an election in which the stakes would be higher than in 2020, and in which there will be such a clear choice among the candidates.

Elections in 2020 should be much more attractive to political introverts. Most of the “noise” in politics will be diminished without big rallies, and possibly without conventions. If there are debates, they may not be in front of audiences, which again would make them quieter. Issues should become more important; image less so. All of that would be appealing to political introverts who may find politics more inviting than they have in the past. Many political introverts would also like to vote from home rather than going to the polls. – Response from Arthur

Q:  Do political introverts donate to campaigns, as a way of participating behind the scenes? [Anonymous]

A:  Excellent question, but I have seen no evidence to either affirm or deny this contention. Since the definition of a political introvert is vague, it will probably be difficult to determine. – Response from Arthur

Q: Back to education. What role do parents play in the competitive climate of high school? In my teaching experience, I sensed lack of empathy often came from home. [Stephanie Gavin]

A: It takes a strong person to live a life in which competition and empathy are mutually compatible. I’m far from good at this, but when watching a sporting event, I usually feel as bad for the team that I root against as I do feel good for “my team.” We tend to demonize opponents. I don’t believe that this phenomenon frequently occurs in elementary school, but it ramps up in middle school and often becomes close to out of control at the high school, college and professional levels. In this regard, the United States is no worse than the countries in which soccer is the be-all and end-all of sports, and to a certain extent, life.

Competition in schools goes far beyond sports. There are constant races to get ahead – grades, test scores, admissions to private schools and then to college. Parents often stoke the fires within their children. In a sense, the parents, and then the children are being rational. After all, a student can rise to be the valedictorian only if other students get lower grades than he or she does. A student’s chance of getting into the college of his or her choice with a good financial package not only requires him or her to do well, but also for others to do less well. If a parent is thinking about the best interests of his or her child, then it makes sense for that parent to not be empathetic towards the competition.

In a society in which it is equally important to promote the common good as it is to protecting individual liberties, we need to be sensitive to the needs of others. American schools are not designed to give students the skills to strive to be the best while concurrently being empathetic to the needs of others (at least those who are not in each students’ “inner circle”). If schools can look at their communities as being a microcosm of the world at large, then students can have the opportunity to learn to value each individual student with respect. If a school is successful at that, then the students will be more likely as adults to be empathetic towards others in their localities, their nation, and the global community. – Response from Arthur

Q: What’s your observation on how introverted students respond to the competitive environment of the school you work in? [Anonymous]

A: Academically, they are competing just as diligently if not more so than extroverts. They feel the pressure and, in my opinion, experience a lot of anxiety. There is a lot of inner turmoil trying to complete assignments, speak frequently in class (a common requirement), take part in extra-curricular activities (often mentally and physically draining) and maintain a high GPA. It helps if they find an understanding teacher and activities that align with their preference for quieter expression like in a drawing class or writing class. I see many introverts in the AP classes, especially the math classes. Technology classes also give introverts a place to thrive. – Response from Brenda

Q: Has cheating really changed that much from 30 or 40 years ago until now? I’m not sure I think so. [Dan Weinberg]

A: My hunch is that cheating has increased from what it was 30 or 40 years ago, and much of that is confirmed by Rutgers study on cheating that we cited in the forum. In my mind, there are two reasons why.

First, there seems to be a multiplier effect to the acceptance of cheating. The more frequently that people do it, the more acceptable that it becomes. If we go back further than 30 or 40 years; let’s say before the Vietnam War, I think that it is likely that students had more respect for the schools that the attended, and the values of honesty that many schools seemed to promote (though did not necessarily faithfully practice). In my mind, the Vietnam War opened the door to much great cynicism about our society. Cutting corners became more acceptable, and that is central to cheating. Add to this that the competition has become fiercer, and I think that there are more reasons for students to think that cheating is almost a necessity. In most cases, they do not have to look far to find someone else who is cheating.

Second, technology obviously makes cheating easier. Plagiarizing was more difficult when it was not so easy to copy and paste. Students can see much more of one another’s works now with shared platforms such as Google docs. Hacking is something that hardly existed 30 or 40 years ago, but now it is an option for many students who want to access information that provides them with a shortcut. Hacking can also be an avenue for students to actually change their grades.

I’ll take the risk of saying that if pressure to achieve and to match the accomplishments of peers is reduced, then the “need” and desire to cheat will diminish. There is an element of rationality (not necessarily to be confused with morality) in cheating. If students are more motivated to learn because of their individual inquisitiveness rather than external pressure to perform well, then I suspect that cheating will diminish. Regrettably, I’m not sure that very many educators are looking at it that way. – Response from Arthur

Q: Do you think that any of the election reforms that are being discussed would encourage introverts to vote? [Anonymous]

A: Voting by mail makes it easy for introverts to not have to leave their homes. This is convenient and avoids small talk at the polls. J Candidates more like themselves might encourage introverts to vote as well. I’m not sure if rank choice voting or changing political funding laws will convince an introverted non-voter to vote. –Response from Brenda