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Five Good Reasons Not to Vote

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Every year, Election Day dawns in my part of the world with frosty air and the rustle of falling leaves underfoot. And just as regularly, columnists write columns urging everyone to go out and vote. It is the journalistic equivalent of a fiber supplement: filling up space without much texture or flavor.

Let me offer you the journalistic equivalent of a 9 a.m. boilermaker, then: If you don't feel like voting, don't bother. It won't matter. The statistical odds of your vote making any difference at all are infinitesimal. And the fact that you don't care enough to swing yourself out of the chair and head down to the polling place is a good sign that the country does not need your ill-informed, half-hearted opinion.

Still here? For your chaser, let me offer you some very good reasons not to vote:

  1. It doesn't matter. I can't reiterate this enough: In a national election, the odds of your vote making a difference are very close to zero, even in a competitive race. Even in a local election, the odds are really very small -- as are the odds that you are making an informed choice about those down-ticket elections. If you're busy or don't want to wait in line at your polling place, rest assured: The nation is getting along fine without your contribution.
  2. You don't have a strong opinion. You've been back and forth all election season, and you still haven't made up your mind which candidate to prefer. If you vote today, it will be an electoral coin flip between two candidates you don't particularly care for. The random noise you will introduce into the data may provide some fun for election analysts, but otherwise, this is a pointless exercise that -- as mentioned above -- has roughly zero chance of impacting the election. The best you can hope to do is accidentally send a false signal to Tweedledum or Tweedledee that you actually like them and their policies. Do not be that person who feels they need to develop an opinion about everything, from monetary policy to where to go for dinner; you cannot possibly have thousands of good opinions on different subjects, and it's OK to take a pass on making this election one of your hobbies or treat electoral politics like the civic counterpart to becoming a Raiders fan. If you haven't come to firm conclusions about this election, you will do more for your country by going home for takeout and a movie. At least you'll stimulate the economy a bit.
  3. You don't think it will make a difference who gets elected. As a philosophical proposition, this is indefensible: Obviously it will make some difference, if only in the nameplate on the office. But if you don't think that either candidate will make a difference in anything you care about, or help their party to do same, then there's no reason to go vote for ... what? The one with better hair?
  4. You aren't informed about the candidates or the issues. Quick: Name three items on your preferred candidate's campaign platform. Then discuss the pros and cons of actually implementing their proposals. Stymied? You are a good candidate for not voting this year. And for gosh sake, definitely don't vote in those lower-ticket races for judges and county commissioners. You have no idea who those people are, couldn't cite one fact about them other than the (D) or (R) after their names, and are just encouraging a system of party patronage that doesn't do anyone much good. This goes double -- no, triple -- for initiatives. Unless you've done your homework and understand what the initiative does, do not vote for any initiative, no matter how nice it sounds.
  5. None of the major races in your district are competitive. For example, I am not voting today and have not voted by mail. Because I am not a registered Democrat, I was not eligible to vote in the election that actually matters in my District of Columbia home: the Democratic mayoral primary. I do not have a strong opinion about either of our major mayoral candidates, and even if I did, it wouldn't matter, because our future mayor is running 20 or so points ahead of her opponent. The only possible reason to vote would be to weigh in on our marijuana legalization initiative, which looks set to pass without my input. If it passes or fails with one vote, I will be duly chastened, but I am less worried about this happening than I am about my odds of dying during the flight I am taking Thursday morning.

If you passionately care whether the next person to represent you is a Democrat or a Republican, or if you have developed strong and informed opinions about the candidates based on issues and past performance, then by all means, go to the polls and vote. But don't try to bullyrag your apathetic, ignorant friends into doing the same. And if you're one of those apathetic friends, feel free to sit back, pop open a cold Colt 45, and watch "Mork & Mindy" reruns on Channel 57. Either way, a grateful nation thanks you.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net