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Is An Uninformed Vote Better Than No Vote? 1048

ras_b asks: "I don't pay attention to politics at all, and so I will not be voting in today's elections. My family has been telling me that this is a mistake and I should vote anyway, partly because I have slightly conservative views which agrees with their political outlook. My reasoning is that since I am totally uninformed, I shouldn't vote. I don't want to vote Republican or Democrat, only to find out later I totally disagree with something a candidate stands for. So, here's my dilemma and my question: Is an uninformed vote better than no vote?" This issue is touched upon in a posting by Ezra Klein, of the The American Prospect, who disagrees, arguing against a similar assertion by Greg Mankiw, from a suppressed Fortune article. Greg says: "Sometimes...the most responsible thing a person can do on election day is stay at home ... If you really don't know enough to cast an intelligent vote, you should be eager to let your more informed neighbors make the decision." What do you think?
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Is An Uninformed Vote Better Than No Vote?

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  • 3rd Party (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WickedLogic ( 314155 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:36PM (#16757729) Journal
    If you don't care, and are not going to vote. Vote for more variety, if nothing else...
  • Agree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zashi ( 992673 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:36PM (#16757731) Homepage Journal
    I completely agree. An uniformed vote is far worse than no vote at all. The masses are easily swayed. Do you really want the people governing your nation to be picked via their ability to spread the most propaganda? Granted, that is more or less how things work now, but uninformed votes only worsen the situation.
  • by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <.gundbear. .at.> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:37PM (#16757769) Homepage
    There is no such thing as an uninformed vote. You cannot be TOTALLY ignorant. You will know something.

    In aggregate then hopefully that information will come out.

    If you don't vote at all then you are literally giving other people control over your life. Voting is not ONLY about candidates. You can vote on issues/questions/propositions that increase or decrease taxes or affect your life entirely.

    So to recap: If you were totally, completely, entirely ignorant than your vote will be canceled out by all the other voters who are totally ignorant. On the other hand if you have even a smattering of knowledge, that vote will not be cancelled out because it will "align" with other voters who also have a smattering of knowledge.

    At the very worst your vote will cancel out someone else who makes a "bad" vote.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:39PM (#16757809)
    If you are asking this question you have already failed. You live in a democracy. It is your responsibility as a citzen to GET informed before election day. If you don't, your "democracy" is a fiction.
  • Related (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:41PM (#16757917) Journal
    I'm surpised the Mankiw piece got linked without mentioning a someone similar piece by Prof. Bryan Caplan [] (who himself links [] the Mankiw piece) that summarizes his upcoming book, The Myth of the Rational Voter.

    Long story short, he argues that because people don't personally bear the cost of holding ridiculous political beliefs, they relax their standards of intellectual rigor, similar to how they do with religious beliefs. They thus use voting to appeal to their "feel good" side rather than seriously analyze the issues (like the would with, e.g. their own finances), resulting in destructive policies all-around.

    So he takes Mankiw one step further and says that it's not just ignorance that's a problem, but irrationality. If it were mere ignorance, the errors would cancel. But, Caplan, claims, they don't -- they skew the wrong way.
  • by From A Far Away Land ( 930780 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:41PM (#16757947) Homepage Journal
    In America, where only two parties are given a chance at winning by the media [and thus they shape perception that way into reality], you really can't lose by voting for a 3rd party. If you aren't happy with the current system, staying home isn't getting changes put into place. But if you vote Green, or Libertarian, or Independent, you're sending a message that you don't trust mainstream politics. Imagine what would happen if 10% of the voters went for non-Democrat and non-Republican. Could politicians really believe that that many millions of Americans don't deserve to be represented in Congress or the Presidency?

    They'd HAVE to change the system to a more fair electoral system.
  • You guys are crazy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the_unknown_soldier ( 675161 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:43PM (#16757999)
    As a citizen in a country with compulsory voting, I find even the suggestion that you wouldn't vote crazy. Voting is a responsibility just like jury duty - and you don't have to actually vote, you just have to be present on polling day. Now I know you're asking... Why should so called "uninformed" people vote?

    In American you guys have the "NRA" the nutbar Christian organisations, the pro-choice lobby, the this lobby, the that lobby. All of these lobbies are able to claim "If you don't do this, you'll lose a million votes" and the politicians are effectively held by the balls to a policy that only the minority of people really give a shit about. Compulsory voting dilutes the power of these lobbies, and ensures that they can't make it SEEM like the public is against something that really, most people aren't.

    Vote. Its the best thing you can do.

    Oh and another thing, why the hell do you Americans hold elections on weekdays? Aren't most people at work? Normal people would hold an election on a Saturday...
  • Spoil the Ballot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HappySqurriel ( 1010623 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:50PM (#16758211)
    On the other hand, if you're not able to vote on a topic (whether it is because you're uninformed or can not decide between your options) go to a polling station and spoil the ballot.

    To simply not show up to vote says that you're too lazy to vote (and that you don't take the right to vote seriously) ... spoiling the ballot says you do not believe you have a good option.
  • Re:Get Informed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by parasonic ( 699907 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:52PM (#16758269)
    I realize that the seemingly correct thing to do is to stay at home. But all that does is ensure the tyranny of those with an agenda. This stuff isn't rocket science. There are not that many candidates to choose from, and you're chosing the lesser of two evils anyway.
    I'm certainly not choosing the lesser of two evils. In the grand scheme of things, I vote for who I think should be elected. Generally, that's a third-party/independent candidate. It's only when there are two equal evils with no choice of a third that I don't vote--the best way to express my opinion is by showing NO support for either of them. If either were elected, I would be equally dissatisfied.

    So, you know that your vote has no effect in the grand total of millions. Why not vote your conscious? You'll know that you did the right thing.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:14PM (#16758715)
    I have been a registered independent all of my voting life. I did not run (and if nominated would not), nonetheless I am informed that I have received vote(s) for a Congressional seat.

    If elected I would serve under the same sort of social ethics that motivate me to remove stranger's garbage cans from the middle of the road, but frankly the idea gives me the fucking willies.

    From my personal perspective I think the essential problem is not so much getting independents elected, but getting them to run. The same reasons that make them independent make them disinclined.

    Plato had something to say about this.


  • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:15PM (#16758731)
    If you check polls from 2004, you will find that Bush voters were more likely than Kerry voters to be wrong about Bush's positions, and that independent voters were often wrong but wrong less often than Bush supporters. There's no reason to assume the uniform distribution.

    well, alot of us held our noses and voted for him because we didn't think kerry got it regarding the war. we also hoped and prayed that he would leave his big spending, federal takeover of everything, ruinous trade and immigration policies. but alas, we've been hoodwinked. and now he's not even fighting an agressive war. I want my money back!!!
  • Re:Get Informed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:26PM (#16758969) Journal
    I can't tell you how many times my Grandmother has gotten things done simply by doing this.

    One example of this was when she wrote about how the state patched the roads poorly. Around here, they only do a strip along the shoulder to try to level the road. They skip spots now and then and when it's done poorly it tends to wear on the right suspension more than your left. She drives this road on a regular basis (to and from town) and rarely travels any other roads. She wrote a letter, included a copy of the repair bill for her car and kindly asked for the road to be fixed. She explicitly stated she didn't want them to pay for her car, but included the bill so they could see how much it cost her. Less than one month later, they repaved the entire road from the corner past her house all the way into town. It desperately needed repaired, so it wasn't really a "waste" of tax dollars (except for the fact that some idiot got paid to do a poor job in the first place.)
  • Re:Spoil the Ballot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:31PM (#16759063)
    Or you're too stupid to mark only one box.

    We still need an option for "none of the above, thanks".
  • Vote 3rd-party (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:35PM (#16759153) Homepage
    In my state, 38% of the eligible voters voted in the last election. So if those 62% went out and voted for each of the 3 other parties (Green, Libertarian, Populist) registered in my state, at random, then we we would have 5 viable parties. That would completely change the political landscape. Finally, there would have to be real discussion on issues. It means that someone would be in office who didn't have campaign contributions from big corporations. It means we would have representatives would be turning away lobbyists instead of making shady deals in smoky rooms (sorry for the cliche). So I say, if you are uninformed, vote for the guaranteed losers.
  • 3rd party candidates (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AaronW ( 33736 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:37PM (#16759199) Homepage
    I don't see all the mudslinging campaign commercials since I have a Replay and tend to watch channels they don't advertise on. So I went through the voter guides with statements by various candidates. At least where I live, a number of candidates could not take the time to fill out what they stand for and why I should vote for them. One Green party candidate complained that it cost $20 per word and would say nothing else but refer to a web site. I'm sorry, but even at $20 per word it looks like the major candidates spent only around $5000, which I'm sure isn't too big of a burden on the Green party or some other part, especially for a state as large as California. In other cases, there were no 3rd party candidates to choose from or their philosophies were so far out of mainstream that I couldn't stomach them.

    Unexpectedly, the local race was pretty easy to decide. For our city council there were two incumbents who have done a fairly decent job. The other candidates went from flaky to just plain deranged.

    Similarly with the water board... the quality of the local water is pretty good and it's cheap and they've done a good job maintaining a good supply. If the incumbent has done a good job, why change it?

    Secretary of State for California was also a no-brainer for me. Debra Bowen, the democratic candidate, has made numerous statements in support of an open-source voting system while her republican opponent is fine and dandy with Diebold and co and more worried about illegal immigrants voting.

    I seriously considered 3rd party candidates for governor, but none of them put forth a compelling reason why I should vote for them and either came out as being too far to the right or the left.

    I'm sorry, but if I'm to vote for a Green Party or some other 3rd party, a majority of their views should be relatively mainstream middle of the road. After all, whoever is elected will need to work with the state legislature. I mean, why can't a Green Party candidate come out for the environment and not be totally anti-corporation, i.e. try and encourage corporations to be more eco-friendly. Most corporations aren't really evil and have their place. Some actively help promote environmental protection.

    The propositions took a bit of research.

    Some positions I just didn't know enough about, so I left those blank. Some I went by endorsements since I knew some of the people making the endorsements.

  • Re:Analogy time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LunaticTippy ( 872397 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:52PM (#16759479)
    I thought about running for office, just to give the press a field day with my drug use, sexual habits, and freakish manner. Most normal people don't want this kind of mean-spirited scrutiny. They might have family or churches they go to that would be hurt by dirt dug up.

    If I had a family or went to a church, no fucking way would I run for office. Nobody has a squeaky-clean past. Even if some weirdo does have a clean bill of moral health, the bastards will make something up. Something believable, with dozens of witnesses, just as soon as the candidacy becomes viable.
  • Re:Pardon? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by selfdiscipline ( 317559 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:54PM (#16759549) Homepage
    Yes, but how do you measure ignorance? If you could find some metric for ignorance, and took a ignorant stupid person (ok, you'd also have to measure intelligence, which would be its own can of worms) and an equally ignorant smart person, then sure... neither would be more qualified to make a good (to say well-informed) vote.

    But the nice thing about smart people is sometimes they can bridge their ignorance with inferences that stupid people cannot make. Whether those inferences make them less ignorant (because they're perhaps less ignorant for knowing how to use them) is a question I'm not gonna attempt to answer.

    Also, and I should have addressed this first: Appeal to authority?! are you equating authority with intelligence? Surely you must not be very familiar with authority. Plus, if one is an "authority" on a particular subject, they have knowledge about it... the opposite of ignorance, and the definition of what this debate is (or should be) about.
  • by tyler_larson ( 558763 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:00PM (#16759627) Homepage

    This election, I voted on the on the candidates and propositions, but abstained (left them blank blank) on deciding whether to keep or oust the laundry-list of judges and other unrecognized names. My reasoning is that while I know enough to vote on the issues that matter, I know nothing (and care little) about the the head of the school board. It there's strong reason to vote either way, then I figure that those familiar with the issue will do so; I don't want to dilute the potency of their vote by casting an a vote at random.

    In the previous vote, I had simply voted for "what sounded good" on the issues I'd never heard of, and as a result ended up voting the wrong way on some important issues because the wording on the ballot was severely deceptive (though that's a topic for another discussion).

  • Re:Get Informed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bjprice ( 863197 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:02PM (#16759653) Homepage Journal
    If you don't like either candidate, simply vote out the incumbent.

    If nobody can hold onto the seat for more than one term, perhaps they'll eventually realise they need to change their approach...
  • by yali ( 209015 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:09PM (#16759775)
    Odds are, you will never agree with any candidate's views 100% of the time, unless you are the candidate. Even then, you won't agree 100% of the time, judging from past politicians.

    Let me add that odds are you will agree with one candidate more than the other(s). Voting isn't about getting everything you want on every single issue. That doesn't happen in a democracy -- you'll have to become dictator of your own nation to realize that little fantasy. Voting is about moving the country in a more positive direction, and that is an eminently realistic and achievable goal.

  • by lupine ( 100665 ) * on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:12PM (#16759821) Journal
    I am informed, but I don't vote for all races.
    When I vote, I make my mark for contested races and for referendums and I vote for uncontested candidates that I know do a good job of representing me.

    Other candidates that are running unopposed for minor offices that I dislike or have no opinion of I skip entirely so that if there is someone out there who has gone to the trouble to organize a last minute write in campaign they will not have my vote against them.
  • Re:Has no effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hcg50a ( 690062 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:15PM (#16759883) Journal
    But there could be other mathematical models of "uninfomed".

    Exactly. In California, for example, the wording of propositions must be specified in the positive: A "yes" vote always means to adopt the proposed change, a "no" vote always means to reject the proposed change.

    An uninformed voter could vote "no" on all propositions. This is not an unreasonable thing to do.

    Not voting is not neutral: It is supporting the majority or plurality (not incumbents).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @07:53PM (#16760431)
    Actually, it's quite easy:

    Vote NO on all propositions - we don't need even more laws and bureaucracies.

    Vote to OUST all existing officials, or against all incumbents. They were probably doing a shitty job anyway, so let's get some new blood in there. Anything to get rid of the career politicians.
  • by kbolino ( 920292 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @08:08PM (#16760665)
    The simple answer is no, you should not vote. In the simplest terms, an uninformed vote is an irresponsible choice, and as such is one that you should not make.

    To take things beyond the black-and-white, voting is a fundamental right. The founders hoped that Americans would make informed, responsible decisions. But they knew that would not always be the case.

    If you are going to vote, take twenty minutes and do some Google searches. Know the candidates, know their positions, and know their records. Remember that you don't have to vote in every race: you may have strong feelings about governor, but might not know anything about the clerks of the courts. That's okay; you can choose to vote in one race and not another.

    There is a difference between being informed and being influenced: there is a lot of propaganda, a lot of nonsense. You must remember that every candidate wants your vote, and will likely do whatever it takes to get it. They want party hacks, leaning moderates, and even crazies. They'll appeal to whomever they can, and you must be wary of it. I find that these tactics can be useful in your decision-making process, but not exactly how the candidates intended. If candidates run particularly dirty campaigns, focusing all of their attention on smearing and belittling their opponents, then that may be a mark of how they will conduct themselves in office.

    And remember, there are not always massive differences between parties. There's a lot of overlap. Often, you'll find that you agree with both candidates some of the time and disagree with them some of the time. In order to make a decision with which you would be comfortable, you'll have to arrange some mental priorities: Is the economic situation important to me? Is the social situation important to me? Is foreign policy important to me?

    I hope that some of this might help. I would not discourage anyone from voting: it is a right, and there is no reason why you should not exercise it. But it is a big decision, and it does carry consequences. Know before you go, and be comfortable with what you do. If you make a mistake, then you'll be better informed for next time!
  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @08:42PM (#16761105) Homepage
    If you don't know anything about any of the candidates, you are reduced to guessing.

    That may be technically true but it is ALMOST NEVER the case in politics. At the very least, a person knows which party's general philosophies most closely match his own.

    Voting based only on something like that isn't ideal. But it IS better than the masses who vote because they saw a commercial that said "Kevin Bacon voted against veterans," where the veteran issue was a rider on a bill promote the kicking of puppies.

    One is voting on correct but light philosophical information. The other on downright WRONG information. A smart person never would have fallen for that stupid veteran ad, but lots of stupid people do so.

    (There actually is a "Kevin Bacon" running for something in Ohio. I don't know how he feels about kicking puppies, and I don't know how many degrees of Kevin Bacon he is...)
  • Re:Pardon? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @08:45PM (#16761127) Homepage
    A dumb person who know that there's a rattlesnake in my sleeping bag might be more important to listen to than a smart person who doesn't.

    That said, anyone who can go this far without understanding the basic political temperaments of the parties is someone who doesn't know which sleeping bag has the rattlesnake.
  • Re:No (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @09:48PM (#16761911)
    But it would be ridiculous to claim that it's the duty of every citizen to, again, go to the polling place and flip a coin.

    So do what I plan on doing: go to the polls and leave the ballot blank.

    If you don't think can make an informed decision on an issue then just leave it blank. Why does everyone think you have to have an opinion on everything? Is this some remnant from test taking that you're better off putting something down instead of nothing?

    If people irritated at the lack of choices just didn't vote for anyone it would significantly reduce the "mandate" that candidates claim they have. If all the people who didn't vote instead voted for "Nobody", then it would reduce most "winners" to less than 30% of the vote. That seems like a more powerful message because nobody seems to care about low voter turnout.

  • by belg4mit ( 152620 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @12:07AM (#16763071) Homepage
    >I don't agree with the stage setting and pre-approved actors. I don't feel like I'm
    >given much of a choice really, and I don't feel that it's going to matter who is voted
    >in, because by virtue of being on the ballot to begin with... the candidates all
    >conform or are inline with those who are already in power already.
    Man did you drink the Kool-Aid. Nowhere is it written that we have a two party system.
  • by Jim_Callahan ( 831353 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:37AM (#16763713)
    The problem with your initial argument is that the demands of historical precedent are satisfied by turning in a blank ballot, thus exercising your right, without actually voting.
    As for your second argument, I'm just going to say that someone a lot more authoritative on the issue than yourself grants unconditional right to complain about any political desire you wish, regardless of wether or not you vote. It's generally referred to as the first amendment to the US Constitution, and technically it isn't even limited to people who can vote.
    Regarding your third point, we're not a democracy, we're a republic: it's not a system to bring the will of the majority on every issue, it's a system to place the correct people in power to make the correct judgements while preventing abuse of governmental power. Frankly, I'm rather glad of this, given my experience with the political ignorance of the average citizen. (Preceding assumes that you're in the USA, which seems reasonable given that you refer to 'congress' and not, say, 'parliament', use american syntax, and are on a /. politics thread.)
    Regarding your advice on selecting a party to vote for, I provide the simple counterexample of switching from, say, republican to democrat: your strategy just failed, because you voted for a clone of the party already in power. You have to be reasonably informed to even select a party that would cause some sort of policy change.
    And, finally, no, voting does nothing to improve voter informedness of itself. In fact, simple proportioning tells us that the more issues you cast a vote on, the less time you will spend on average considering each issue, since there is a finite span of time for each election and assumably you spend what you can spare in either case.
    Rebuttal complete. Do I get a cookie or something? 'cause I'm starving over here.
  • by saxoholic ( 992773 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:33AM (#16764047)
    The original poster raises some good points. However, a close friend of mine recently wrote a rather extensive paper on this subject. He detirmined through research (I didn't write the paper, so I couldn't tell you what his sources were) that when people vote because they feel they have to, it skews the election because people in this demographic tend to vote for candidates based on reasons other than the issues. Personal appearance, or just the sound of a name play an important role here.

    He also detirmined that overall, it's better if you don't feel strongly about the election that you don't vote. The analogy he used when explaining it to me was this:

    Let's say that an office is throwing a party, and the host wants to know if he should serve peanuts or potato chips, so he sends around a survey giving the people attending the option to check either peanuts or potato chips. Let's also say that 50 people are going to the party, 40 don't really care whether peanuts or chips are served, 3 strongly favor chips, and 7 people are allergic to peanuts.

    With the survey passed around all 50 people are forced to make a choice between peanuts and chips. While 40 of them don't actually have a preference, by forcing them to choose, it is possible that peanuts will win the vote, leaving the 7 people with a peanut allergy very unhappy.

    However, if only those who cared strongly about the issue voted, chips would definitely win, the 40 people who didn't have a preference wouldn't be displeased, and only the 3 people would be unsatisfied. By limiting the voting population to those who strongly cared about the issue, more people overall were happy.

    So, don't just vote because you feel you have to, vote because you care about the issues you're voting for. When you vote because you feel it is your duty, you skew the data, and it is possible that overall fewer people will be happy with the result.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @08:17AM (#16765723)
    So if you're too lazy to vote, or to research at least some of the candidates positions, you're really shitting all over the efforts and lives lost of people that DID fight for the right to make sure that you have the right to vote.

    IMHO, Uninformed voting is much more shitting all over the efforts... You may have a right to vote, but that right is useless when 60% of the votes are cast by uninformed voters that might as well be throwing dice (and who says they don't).

    I agree that informed voters are preferable, but when not informed, staying home is a FAR better solution than voting anyway. Every informed person in the country may vote for candidate A, but when the "dice" likes candidate B's hairstyle better, candidate B is still going to win, making the "right to vote" useless.

    So, if you are informed, vote. If you are not informed, go to the library and GET INFORMED. If that's too much to ask, stay home. DON'T VOTE.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling