Staying home on election day? There are three scientific reasons why you should really make an effort to vote.
The low turnout in a recent referendum on local housing issues showed that the citizens of Rotterdam weren’t exactly queuing up to vote. A mere 16.9% of those entitled to vote in the referendum actually did so. The turnout was way under the 30% required to make the referendum valid. Next spring (March 2017) sees the next elections for the House of Representatives in the Netherlands, and of course it is important to have a considerably higher turnout than in that referendum in Rotterdam. So here (thanks to the Social Sciences) are three reasons to vote next spring:
1. Voting is rational behaviour
Voting requires considerable effort. It takes time and energy. Moreover, the chance that your individual vote will actually make a crucial difference is pretty small. So if your aim is to make the most efficient choice, it probably makes more sense to stay home and enjoy your morning cup of coffee. And yet there are several reasons that voting can be viewed as rational behaviour. One reason relates to the consequences of the election. True, there is only a minuscule chance that your individual vote will be the deciding one, but the outcome of the election may have very significant consequences for a huge number of people. In calculating the value of your individual vote, you have to factor in that tiny chance that yours will be the decisive vote, but also the enormous consequences for other people. So if you look at it that way, going out to vote may be more important than that extra cup of coffee.
2. You are morally responsible for the outcome of the election
Research shows that in determining whether we are morally responsible for a certain outcome, we consider more aspects than just whether our vote makes “the crucial difference”. Let’s look at an example. Eight students are competing in a race: four in Team Purple and four in Team Yellow. On the day of the race, the members of Team Purple perform unusually badly, and Team Yellow carries off the prize. In this case, every individual member of Team Purple will be blamed; we take no notice of “the difference” made by the actions of a given individual member of the team. We hold the group as a whole responsible. In the same way, we consider voters and non-voters responsible for the outcome of the election, even though each individual vote would not have determined that outcome. This means that all those entitled to vote can be held responsible for the outcome of the election.
3. You’ll regret it if you don’t vote
Psychological research shows that, in the short term, people have more regrets about things they do than things they don’t do. But in the long term, it’s the other way around: we have more regrets about things we didn’t do. And what is more, we have more regrets if we miss out on an experience than if we miss out on a product (deciding not to buy something, for instance). So if you stay away from the polling station – thus missing out on the experience of voting – you may well regret it in the long run.
In short, it’s very important for you to do your homework next spring and go out and vote. You may regret it if you don’t.
(Original Dutch article in NRC: 'Van niet stemmen krijg je meer spijt dan van wel stemmen')