Apathy About Local Elections

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It's election day, and since it's just local elections the turnout is really poor. I was just voter #74 in my district, and the election workers are (I believe?) joking about knocking on people's doors to remind them that there's an election on.

It's strange that we never care as much about local elections, even though they impact us far more directly than national ones. How can people with kids not care about who is running their schools. How can someone be motivated to vote for a presidential candidate who has little chance of winning their state because of party dominance and yet not be able to get over to vote on the people who will determine which construction projects happen in their neighborhood? There are plenty of irrational elements of voting behavior, but this one has to be up near those who voted for John Kerry because they thought he was pro-life or George Bush because they thought he was pro-choice.

Is this just an artifact of the nationalized media? Is it because no one pays attention to local media? I doubt it, because I'm pretty sure this pattern is older than nationalized media's dominance. Is it that the issues in national elections seem more important because they have more effect? This might explain why we get more worked up about national issues than we do about anything at the local level. The local authorities can't do as much about those concerns. What's ironic, if that's the case, is that we have far smaller influence over such issues, and so we're getting more worked up about things we have much less ability to affect.

It's especially odd that this apathy about local elections is present among libertarians, federalists, and small-government conservatives, who constantly go on about how certain issues ought to be left to the local level. Do such people regularly vote on the local level about those issues? Some of them surely do, but I would guess that the percentage of people voting in local elections is similar across parties.

10 Comments

Recently I read that those in GenX are much less concerned with local news and stuff happening locally and are much more in tune with and care about what's happening nationally and worldwide. It made me think about how I am disgusted with anything on the local news and how negative it is all the time, but how I tune in regularly to Fox News for what's happening on a bigger scale. Makes me wonder how that trend factors into voting concern for local issues.

I don't think this is a GenX problem. My parents are just as ignorant of and apathetic about local elections as I am (which means they vote but don't go way out of their way to know the issues or the people).

This may be taken as evidence that people vote for symbolic rather than instrumental reasons. I.e. it's about self-expression, not influencing the world.

I don't know what it is ... I have generally attributed it to the dominance of national/cable news, but you might be right, it might predate that problem.

On the other hand ... it takes more effort to read a newspaper and know about the local candidates than it does to listen to the political ads during "American Idol" and make a decision based on those.

Generally elections are a waste of walking power on instrumental grounds - ie that the expected return of you (alone) voting is less than the cost of you getting to the polling booth and reading about the issues etc etc.

I presume there is also an effect where the best politicians will tend to move up the ranks towards central government as will the best journalists etc (leveragng their skills). As a result the whole election marketing infrastructure is weaker.

I don't actually think it's a cost to research the issues and learn about them. It's worth knowing about what's going around you anyway, including issues of national importance as well as local ones. Some of the issues are even intrinsically worth thinking through.

There is a consequentialist argument for voting. It's just not one an act-utilitarian can make. The consequences of people following the utilitarian reason not to vote would be awful. The whole governmental system would fall apart. This is so even if it's individually best for each person not to vote (presuming that others do). What this means is that those who don't vote are parasitic on those who don't.

I think it might not be a cost to those that are naturally interested in politics, but it might be a cost to the majority of people.

I'm not so sure democracy is that valuable, I also don't think it rests upon a lot of people voting. In theory if 10% of people voted and there was no bias demographicaly then the result would be identical to if 100% voted. In this model there is a utilitarianism argument for people to be 'parasitic'.

If it takes lets say a representative 10% of the population to have reasonable election then why force the other 90% to do somthing they don't want to do in order to get the same result? Then we can say down to 10% any person who chooses not to vote is doing the country a favour (especialy if they arent informed on the issues) - thereafter they are causing a problem.

Those who aren't naturally interested in politics should be. What's good for them doesn't depend on what they like to do. I know there are value theories that wouldn't say that, but this is something I'm pretty convinced of.

I'm not so sure democracy is all that valuable either. It pales in comparison to benevolent dictatorship, which would involve absolutely the best thing being done all the time. But that's not going to happen in this life. A government with some democracy (and no contemporary government has more than some) still beats anarchy any day.

There's a huge difference between a government elected by 10% and a government elected by 100%. The latter government has a great deal more of what people popularly call a mandate (although I think that word is a good deal too strong for what they mean).

>mandate

I suppose walking to the polling both signifies you have made some proactive effort to pass authority over to the government so if the government wants to know how much of a mandate it has it can try to use that as a measure - but if, lets say it rained that day and the turn out was low that doesn't mean the people support the party any less - i.e. I am inclined to think that it is just an indicative measure as opposed to the mandate itself.

It's not about the government having some understanding of its mandate. It's about its having the mandate. That's an objective change.

I do think it's less ideal if a government is elected by fewer people because of a rainy day.

As for support from people who didn't vote, we can distinguish between the fact that people support the candidates and the fact that the legally-sanctioned method of putting people in office gave them a certain level of support. Elected officials are legally legitimate if one person votes and thus every candidate the person votes for wins. I'd say the same if lots of people vote and someone wins by one vote. But there's something more that the government has if 75% of the population support it and all of them voted than if 75% of them support it but it only got into office by one vote.

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