Rationality and the 2022 Midterm Election

Written by Caroline Stafford

What could you do in five hours? Between classes, clubs, work, studying, and a social life, time has become one of the most valuable currencies for university students. With that time you could write a paper, study for a final, work a shift at your job, catch up with your friends, or catch up on some desperately needed sleep. Alternatively, you could spend that time standing in line to cast a ballot in the Michigan 2022 midterm election, along with over 4.3 million people. From a purely economic standpoint, voting is simply not worth it. If the cost of voting is giving up the most valuable of those aforementioned activities, while the benefit is being one of almost half a million people to decide this most recent election, then how do we justify choosing the latter? Of course there is a sense of uncertainty with the benefit in which we can’t truly know which way an election will go, but even so it is extremely unlikely that a handful of votes will make the difference. However, on Tuesday, November 8th, Michigan college students gave up hours of their time and braved the cold far past midnight to vote. With governor, 13 house seats, and abortion rights on the ballot, many students felt making their voice heard was worth almost any cost. Possibly foregoing economic analysis, what convinced students voting was well worth the harsh conditions they faced? 

There is a common sentiment among eligible voters that voting won’t actually change the government. This creates a cycle as a lack of participation quickly undermines the effectiveness of a participatory democracy. Combating this sense of hopelessness seems to be an extreme sense of urgency. This years’ midterm election contained Proposal 3, which essentially allowed voters to decide whether or not abortion would be a right in Michigan. It seems likely that this proposal alone drove many people to the polls. WXYZ Detroit reported more women waiting than men, even stating that voters cited Proposal 3 as their reason for being in line. The overturning of Roe v Wade in June devastated many across the country, a feeling voters did not seem to forget this November.

There was also significant social pressure from college students urging one another to register in the months leading up to an election, and to get to the polls the day of. Members of Greek Life reported turnout contests to WXYZ Detroit and students filled their apartment windows with signs supporting their political beliefs. Students were asked if they were registered to vote by volunteers in the diag and rallied by Governor Whitmer in the days leading up to the election. The benefits of voting continued to add up as those around us pushed for political participation. 

Whether it was a sense of guilt or responsibility that convinced students to wait outside the UMMA until the early morning, we must ask ourselves what will happen when the costs seemingly outweigh the benefits. If the next election does not feel as urgent, or if we leave this university and find ourselves without the social pressure to vote, what will we do then? All the benefits seemed to add up this past election, leaving lowering the costs as the alternative to sustaining record breaking turnout. More polling places, later deadlines for mail in ballots, and a national voting holiday are all plausible if made a priority. When broken down, the question of voter turnout does not remain some large mystery. A simple cost/benefit analysis on an individual level gives us insight into what can be done for the turnout of future elections.

Works Cited

FairVote. (2022, October 17). Voter Turnout. https://fairvote.org/resources/voter-turnout/

Michigan House Election Results 2022: Live Map | Midterm Races by District. (n.d.). https://www.politico.com/2022-election/results/michigan/house/

Shaykhet, S., & Glover, M. (2022, November 10). University of Michigan students vote in massive lines on Election Day. WXYZ 7 Action News Detroit. https://www.wxyz.com/news/democracy-2022/university-of-michigan-students-vote-in-massive-lines-on-election-day

Tanner, K. (2022, November 18). Michigan sets records in midterm voting. Turnout is another story.https://eu.freep.com/in-depth/news/politics/elections/2022/11/15/michigan-midterm-election-voting-turnout/69629402007/Wdet, M. R. |. (2022, November 9). Tuesday’s midterm broke Michigan voter turnout record. Michigan Radio. https://www.michiganradio.org/politics-government/2022-11-09/tuesdays-midterm-broke-michigan-voter-turnout-record