We’re told on campus, we’re told by our friends and we’re told on social media to go out and vote. Voting, we’re told, is the culmination of political participation. It’s seen as the mark of a good citizen. However, an emphasis on just voting undermines the very reason we’re supposed to do so. To vote for the sake of voting undermines the importance of self-education, discussion and engagement. Rather than a legitimate interest in political participation, the pressure to vote has social and partisan connotations. While voting is imperative to democracy, with regard to civic duty, it’s more important to vote informed.
Voting is a private and personal act. However, only promoting the vote undermines its importance as an independent act because of its social implications. “People like to show who they’re voting for because it makes them feel like they belong and are part of a community,” said sports management junior Jolie Katz. The result is a vote intertwined with the need for social approval. Rather than political expression, voting becomes a way to be accepted by your peers.
People may not want to discuss why they’re voting if it would socially marginalize them. Any vote contradictory to the political norm would be interpreted as a threat to the majority community. The result of this is an environment where political expression becomes social standing. As a consequence, especially in polarized settings, the call to vote is more partisan than patriotic.
Popularizing the vote also projects complicated issues onto the candidates who are running. “Whenever people talk about voting it usually revolves around a candidate more than the issues,” said Valentina Novoa, supply chain management junior. Any distinction between a complicated problem and the candidate is lost. This simplification results in two polarized groups who split the issues according to the candidates.
“Vilification of the opposing candidate goes hand in hand with glorifying the other,” said electrical engineering sophomore Cole Schieszer. “It’s all about creating a distinct mental image of the candidates.”
Because voting is specific to a candidate and partisan in nature, its emphasis is loaded with the narrative that each candidate has cultivated. “People often equate the character of candidates with the people who vote for them,” said chemistry junior Darby Buck.
This association negatively affects how we treat opposing perspectives. When the intricacies of issues are disregarded for the sake of partisan narrative, the vote becomes divisive and subject to social pressure. It becomes significant as a weapon to be wielded against others rather than a tool to fix.
Voting is a meaningful act, but it’s only significant if we’re also encouraged to inform ourselves on issues. Self-education and discernment ensure that we express our opinions without social pressure. Staying informed protects against mob politics and group thought. When we’re told to vote it carries the weight of “don’t vote against who I’m voting for.” However, when we’re told to learn about the issues, it advocates for honest discussion and engagement.
Think critically. If you disagree with someone, take the time to understand why you disagree with them. If you and your friends all think the same thing, try to find something you don’t agree on. Discourse isn’t optional — it’s necessary to preserve democracy. Before you vote, learn about the issues at stake.
Martinez is a government and Plan II junior from Austin