Election 2014

Vote-Shaming: Reminding You the Parties Think You Owe Them, Not the Other Way Around


"… So please don't hurt me!"
Credit: Daniel Morrison / photo on flickr

If you're in New York or North Carolina, your state Democratic Party is watching you. They want you to vote, and they're not above threatening to out you for either your apathy or your ambivalence to your neighbors. Talking Points Memo explains the rather disturbing behavior:

New York voters have been receiving very sinister letters from their state's Democratic Party. The tone is vaguely Orwellian: We'll be watching whether you go to the ballot box.

"Who you vote for is your secret," the letter, posted by some recipients on Twitter, says. "But whether or not you vote is public record. Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors."

It then provides a quick reminder of when and where one can vote.

"We will be reviewing … official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014," the mailer concludes. "If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not."

They verified that these letters did indeed come from the Democratic parties, so it's not like somebody is trying to make them look bad. They're also not the only ones doing it. According to Talking Points Memo, similar efforts by apparent third-party groups took place in Alaska, Ohio, and Florida.

As much as I would like to dismiss this effort as a tone-deaf response to voter apathy at a particularly blah-inspiring field, TPM spoke to academics who say this sort of social pressure actually works:

In a paper published in 2008, researchers from Yale University and the University of Northern Iowa reported that they had sent letters to voters with a variety of messages—voting is public record, your neighbors will know if you don't vote, etc.—and what they found is that among people who received the mailers "substantially higher turnout was observed."

"These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation," the researchers wrote. In other words, nobody wants to be embarrassed in front of their neighbors.

It's a sad reminder, though, that this vote-shaming results in these political parties coming to believe that they are entitled to our votes and that the voters serve them, not the other way around. It absolves the parties of responsibility for fielding terrible candidates that fail to inspire. Perhaps such repulsive treatment of the voting public will encourage more of them to drop their parties entirely and join the trend toward independent affiliation.

For the record, I did cast my ballot in the 2014 election here in California through the mail, but I didn't vote for a single candidate, just on the ballot initiatives. I thought my choices were all pretty awful. and thanks to California's open primary, top-two final vote, I had only the choice between two Democrats to represent me in the state Assembly.