Thursday, 26 May 2011

Conscientious non-voting revisited

I'd posted before on my reasons for abstaining from voting - I'm a conscientious non-voter. I'd not claimed priority in usage of the term, but I'd not known of any prior use. Turns out Joey King has used the term since at least 2004.

The arguments are different though. I'm a conscientious non-voter because of an odd contractarianism: if I vote, I agree with the rules of the game and consequently have given moral assent to the outcomes. And so I cannot vote without doing violence to myself. It's purely an inward-oriented argument. Voting is then closer to Sophie's Choice, but where your choosing one over the other only adds epsilon weight to which is chosen and non-voting only makes outcomes worse by epsilon. But if others who share my preferences also refuse to vote, I'm probably worse off.

Joey, in the link above, argues that mass conscientious non-voting could force social change. I'm less convinced of that argument - I'd rather expect that if all the libertarians failed to vote, democratic outcomes would be a bit worse as the location of the median voter would move maybe ten points closer to totalitarianism. And folks closer to the median won't abstain.


  1. For the first time in my life I am contemplating not voting at this years general election. Not for either of the reasons attributed to yourself or King, but simply because I don't especially like my choices this time around. I'm never motivated by the negative vote (i.e. voting against the incumbent) but have always in the past found someone who I thought offered a genuine alternative and a chance for improvement of the lot of kiwis. At this early stage I'm not convinced that I will be given that choice come the election. I will of course peruse the policy statements of the various parties nearer the event but I will be surprised if any of them tickle my fancy.

  2. "if I vote, I agree with the rules of the game and consequently have given moral assent to the outcomes."

    Why do you believe this? From what I've read of the political obligation lit, it seems that most philosophers don't think this is true.

  3. What's the single best reference on why I shouldn't consider myself bound by the rules of a game I choose to play?

  4. I read Wellman and Simmons's "Is there a duty to obey the law" to great profit.

    Basically, establishing political obligation is hard, and establishing political consent is really hard. Re voting, it's not clear that one's choice is free of coercion, and hence is the sort of choice that creates obligations.