Why Do People Vote?

Voting is a natural right, but people choose to exercise it for different reasons.

Despite being a natural right, women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Even then, that right was only given to white women, and it wasn’t until 1965 that black women were also granted the right to vote.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being a natural right, women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Even then, that right was only given to white women, and it wasn’t until 1965 that black women were also granted the right to vote.

It’s 508 B.C. You are one of the few male landowners eligible to vote in Athens, Greece. You walk along the uneven dirt and stone road to pnyx, an open-air auditorium west of the Acropolis, mulling over which bills you want to vote for. You stand in the crowd, waiting for the council members to arrive. The air is buzzing with anticipation for the upcoming election. 

In the twenty-first century, voting looks a little different.

On the first Tuesday of every November, millions of Americans gather at polls to exercise their right to vote. Many people even mail in their ballots early, avoiding the long lines. But despite the many differences between Ancient Greece and today, such as eligibility rules for voting, methods of voting, and representative democracy, the importance of voting has remained constant. In a democratic nation, voting is a key civic responsibility for its citizens. Whether voting is used to elect people’s local government officials, like mayors, or their federal government officials, like the President, voting is one way for people to get their voices heard.

While legislators and government leaders may be tasked with ensuring the safety and security of their citizens, the state of democracy is ultimately in the hands of the voters. Voters have a duty to ensure that their elected officials not only fit the role they are elected for but also have the people’s best interests at heart. 

No Good Options 

Voting allows people to come together and show their commitment to the values and principles of democracy. This can help build stronger, more cohesive communities, as well as provide a way for people to find common ground. 

However, due to the severe political instability catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic,  it’s also become apparent that extremism and partisanship often play a crucial role in driving voters.

According to the Pew Research center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C,  former President Donald Trump’s approval rating never exceeded 50%, and fell to a staggering 29% after the Capitol Riot on January 6th, 2021. Additionally, his average approval rating among Republicans was 86%, compared to 6% among Democrats, revealing the deeply partisan political landscape of the 2020 election.  

As a result, Democrats were willing to vote not necessarily because they completely agreed with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, but because they wanted Trump out of office. Even voters who supported other Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders eventually rallied behind Biden, citing him as the “lesser of two evils” when compared to Trump. 

While many young people saw Biden as the lesser of two evils despite his lack of progressive stances, many Trump supporters opposed Biden because they thought Biden was unfit due to his “views leaning more towards socialism.”

“People feel this personal and visceral connection to political parties and want the other party to lose,” said Dr. Todd Davis, an AP United States History teacher at Bronx Science. “A lot of people were concerned about candidates. Some of the candidates were unacceptable. I think that explains a lot of it.”

Voter turnout in 2020 reached the highest number in over a century, with 66.3% of eligible voters exercising their right to vote, winning Biden the popular and electoral vote, and cementing his place as the 45th president of the United States. While this appears to be a success for Biden voters it raised an important question. Is the choice between the lesser of 2 evils enough to preserve the democracy of a nation? 

While third parties may appear to be a plausible solution to the two-party system, they rarely gain enough votes to be seen as a threat. Even the most active third parties such as the Libertarian party have only gained about 1.18% of the votes in 2020. Third parties do not possess enough power or support in their current states to change the status quo.

Single issue voting

In an ideal world, everyone would vote because they agree with all the beliefs and policies a candidate proposes. But more often than not, people tend to vote because of singular issues that tend to fall into two main categories: economic and social.

Throughout the US, politicians are trying to pass laws to limit who can and can not vote. (Terri Sewell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Economic issues such as inflation drive voters. Following the rapid economic downturn in 2020 due to COVID-19, many people became concerned with the way President Trump was handling the economy. News of hundreds of thousands of deaths, along with the record-high unemployment rates angered people concerned with both economic and social issues. This made people more likely to vote against Trump. 

This appears to be a fairly common trend, where an economic downturn usually leads to a change in the party in power. In the late 1920s, many people blamed Republican President Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression. Although Hoover attempted to curb the economic crisis through The President’s Organization for Unemployment Relief and the National Credit Corporation, Hoover was voted out of office in 1932. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won the election by a landslide, and Democrats gained 101 seats in Congress and 12 seats in the U.S. Senate. 

Economic policies motivate those who believe that there are no pressing societal issues. Those who consider themselves fiscally conservative and socially liberal are more likely to be concerned with the approaches of specific politicians.

Dr. Davis said, “I don’t see people voting on hope as much as I would like. I see people voting on fears.”

Social Media

Social media and online activism have played a key role in voter rollouts. 

During the quarantine, platforms such as TikTok and Instagram became more popular than ever. As people’s anxieties about the lockdown grew, Instagram infographics and TikTok news pages skyrocketed. They would often have colorful backgrounds with catchy headlines and often over-simplified bullet points regarding complicated issues. 

As more people began reposting these infographics on their personal social media, news spread quicker than ever. Infographics are generally created with the intention of giving people facts quickly and in a way that is easily accessible to people, as well as raising awareness about issues. However, it also makes information more accessible. Young people have the opportunity to learn about different issues around the world through social media. The availability of information makes it easier for them to take action even if they cannot vote themselves. 

Unfortunately, the format does not lend itself well to a nuanced discussion, making it incredibly easy to spread misinformation and misconception quickly. 

The older generation is equally susceptible to misinformation in the media. Dr. Davis said, “Fox News has a disproportionate effect on the electorate. It seems to me like politicians mistook the Fox News editorial for what voters wanted to hear.” 

While social media has proved to be an effective tool for informing voters on important issues, the dangers of it can not be ignored. During a time when politics are more polarized than ever, it’s important to ensure that everyone receives accurate information. No matter what their motivations for voting may be, voters can make the best decisions for themselves and their community through the tools of accurate information and education. 

Dr. Davis said, “I don’t see people voting on hope as much as I would like. I see people voting on fears.”