The One Argument that Can Actually Convince People to Vote

People in a field holding signs with green check marks on them.

Why I Didn’t Vote Before

The main reason I didn’t vote was because I didn’t want to be like the people I perceived as “political.” People who talked about politics seemed to always be angry, argumentative, and so defined by their beliefs that they weren’t capable of objectivity. By not voting, I thought I was keeping myself from a slippery slope toward clouded judgement and self-righteousness. I took pride in my position as a calm, centered person who couldn’t be accused of being brainwashed by one party or the other.

The Arguments That Didn’t Work

The pro-voting arguments I encountered never worked on me, and it’s clear to me now why: they tried to work against my reasons, rather than undermining them. Here are few examples:

If Everyone Thought Like You, No One Would Vote/If Lots Of Individuals Vote, It Will Make A Difference

This is easily the most common argument I heard. The logic seems to be that large groups of voters can make a difference in an election, and groups are made up of individuals, so therefore my individual vote matters. But that’s like saying “One hundred is made up of a bunch of ones, so therefore one equals one hundred.” It doesn’t make any real sense; me voting doesn’t mean that anyone else will too. No matter how much you squint and turn your head, numbers are numbers. Anyone can look at vote totals for any election and see that the outcome would be the same no matter who they personally voted for, or whether or not they voted.

It’s Your Civic Duty

The argument that voting is duty of citizenship isn’t a bad one, and it might have some sway among people who have an especially strong sense of patriotism. But I could always undercut it in a couple of ways.

  1. “If you knew I was going to vote for the party/candidates you don’t like, would you still want me to vote?” If the answer to that question is “no,” then it’s clear to the non-voter that “civic duty” isn’t really motivating your argument.

If You Don’t Vote, You Can’t Complain

The “right to complain” approach is also very common, and in my opinion it’s one of the worst ways to talk someone into voting. First of all, it’s objectively not true. You can complain no matter what. Your right to complain is guaranteed by the Constitution, and it isn’t dependent on voting. But the bigger problem is that this argument has you actually attacking the person you’re supposed to be winning over. You’re telling them what they can and can’t say, in a way that comes off as defensive and angry. And in doing that, you’re only furthering their negative perception of “political” people, and pushing them further away from any involvement in politics.

The Argument That Did Work

The lessons I take away from those failed arguments are clear:

  1. You can’t disprove math. So don’t try. You have to present a motivation that somehow doesn’t involve “one vote can make a difference.”

Former writer for and, currently a technology professional, teacher, and father. I write about whatever is on my mind.

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