With election season in full swing and more students registering to vote, it seems most people who are eligible, should vote.
Jason Brennan disagrees with this statement. The professor from Georgetown University gave a lecture Tuesday afternoon in Martin Hall outlining his theory on why most Americans should not vote.
The lecture was part of the university’s series titled “Democracy Then & Now: Citizenship and Public Education.”
“Voting is nothing special,” Brennan said. If someone isn’t informed enough or is voting for pure self-interest, it’s better for America if that person abstains from voting in elections, he said.
Brennan said voting well, with adequate information and an understanding of candidates and their policies, is very admirable. However, ignorant voters should not be commended for participating.
Society views voting as a “civic sacrament,” Brennan said. People believe voting is ethically good, even if the vote is uninformed. However, people view declining to vote as bad, Brennan explained.
Brennan’s theory takes on a different route. A well-informed vote, is good. Abstaining from voting, if a person is not interested or doesn’t have enough information is good. But an uninformed vote, or an uninterested vote is bad.
He discouraged equating voting to a civic duty. No one has an obligation to vote, but if someone decides to vote, they have an obligation to do it well.
Brennan said most Americans do not have enough knowledge to vote well. However, he did not condemn this majority of people. Just because a person doesn’t vote doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to society in other ways, Brennan said.
Jeremy Neufeld, a senior economics and math major, said he found Brennan’s argument very convincing.
“I was already sympathetic to the idea that people should not feel compelled to vote, but I updated in his favor: most voters should not vote,” Neufeld said.
Throughout his talk, Brennan countered common objections to the idea of not voting, which many people would deem unethical.
Some people may object by saying citizens should exercise their right to vote. Brennan said exercising your right to vote is not a valid excuse and compared it to also having the right to join the KKK.
Having a right to do something, like voting or engaging in hate speech, doesn’t mean it’s okay to do it, he said. Uninformed voters do not have to exercise their right to vote, and Brennan believes they shouldn’t.
He also described two main types of potential voters: hobbits and hooligans.
A “hobbit” is someone who doesn’t care about politics and would rather stay at home instead of voting. “Hooligans” are voters who have very strong opinions and political affiliations, but they aren’t necessarily well-informed.
“Hooligans” will vote according to their personal beliefs, even if the candidate they vote for is objectively a worse choice than other candidates. Voting for personal reasons isn’t beneficial for all of America, therefore many “hooligan” voters shouldn’t vote either.
“I think it’s very concerning if voters are not just uninformed but are misinformed and systematically biased against good policies,” Neufeld said.
“Essentially, bad voters are causing serious problems at the highest levels of government,” said junior economics major Jeff Mason.
The driving force behind Brennan’s theory is a lack of incentives in America to encourage the public to be well-informed.
People are not going to learn something unless it is useful for them, or is interesting to them, Brennan said. Politics is not a topic many Americans find intriguing, and learning about it doesn’t present an immediate benefit to an individual. As a result, people will remain uninformed.
Brennan said he’s pessimistic about increasing knowledge in the general public. He blamed democracy for providing poor incentives for citizens to know basic political facts.
Implementing a type of reward system, such as earning tax credit for scoring well on political knowledge surveys, might help, Brennan said. As the voting system is now, though, no feasible solutions can remedy political ignorance.
“The unfortunate part of it is that there’s not really an easily identifiable or easily attainable method to correct this issue,” Mason said. “More people should be willing acknowledge ‘I don’t know enough’ to vote.”
The most beneficial action for America is to leave voting to those who are well-informed about the candidates and their specific policies.
Featured Photo Credit: McKeldin Mall adorned in flags. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.