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Virtuous Voting

As the 2012 campaigns start to accelerate, they strive to motivate their supporters – to get them off their passive posteriors, get them to talk up the party candidates, and at least get them to vote. Political scientists and political practitioners have learned that American elections, with their abysmal turnouts, are typically won not by the side that does the best job of changing people’s minds, but by the side that does the best job of getting out its vote.

The problem of mobilizing one’s partisans raises a long-standing puzzle, the political scientists’ old chestnut: Why should anyone bother to vote, given that the chances of his or her single vote changing an election and that election in turn significantly changing the voter’s life is virtually zero?

Washington LC-H813-1532

The Founding Fathers stressed Civic Virtue — citizens of a Republic must put the common interest ahead of their own. George Washington’s return to public service as president serves as the classic example. Because the Fathers assumed that only men of property could be sufficiently educated, be sufficiently motivated by the public good rather than by private gain, and, unlike women, servants, apprentices, tenants, etc., be sufficiently independent to make their own choices, then only such men could attain Civic Virtue and therefore only such men should vote. Alas, they found out that even gentlemen often had corrupt interests, enough to corrupt voters.

An irony of our age is that, in effect, we expect everyone to exemplify Civic Virtue.

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