It’s one of many forms of civic participation.
In a perfect world, voting would be just another form of civic participation, rather than the apex of democratic virtuosity.
Disparate factions seek to interpret what is often incorrectly termed the “national” vote in ways that seek to command victory and augment the strength of their position in their electorate. What are really fifty-one separate but simultaneous elections, influenced by state and local races and ballot initiatives, become something more centralized and amalgamated: a mandate for the presidential victor to implement sweeping policy changes; a sign that a particular issue has been definitively decided, allowing ongoing dissent to be dismissed as illegitimate.
Voting rationales get winnowed down and the fact that there are few and imperfect choices on the ballot, which often forces people to bargain between the values they seek to promote in civic life and the people who represent them, is ignored. A vote for a candidate becomes an enthusiastic endorsement of that candidate and all their positions and statements.
But that’s rarely what it is. Most fundamentally, a vote says “I like this person more than I dislike his or her opponent or opponents.” A vote may be a strategic consideration: “I don’t want Candidate A to win, so I’ll vote for Candidate B, even though I really agree more with Candidate C on policy.”
It may also be about a particular issue: “I believe taxes are the most important issue and Candidate A’s positions on tax reform most closely reflect my own, therefore I’ll vote for him. Even though I disagree on other issues.”
It might be about ideology: “I’m a firm believer that libertarian values are the ones that should influence public policy. I’ll vote for the libertarian candidate, even if I don’t like her views, because I want the party’s support to increase.”
The point is: voting rationales are infinitely varied. A candidate’s victory rests not on the behavior of a bloc of the electorate, but on the sum of the actions of the plurality or majority whose independent decisions had the same outcome and resulted in victory
The whole is the sum of its parts: the end result doesn’t change the motivations of the…