Ken Connor

Peer pressure. We've all experienced it. We all know how powerful it can be. Let's face it—most of us don't want to stand out from the crowd. Yet, those of us who are parents are constantly admonishing our teenagers to do just that. "Resist the temptation to be like everyone else. Don't follow the crowd. Stand up for what is right!"

It's good advice. We would do well to follow it.

Advertisers understand the power of peer pressure. They understand the power of our desire to be a part of the "in crowd" and they tailor their message accordingly. After all, everyone wants to be "cool", "fashionable", or "trendy"—well, almost everyone.

Political consultants also understand the power of peer pressure. They understand our natural "herd instincts." So they try to create what's called the "bandwagon effect." "Get on board with the winner. The train is about to pull out of the station! You don't want to be left behind."

We hear it all the time. "So and so's victory is inevitable. His opponent is a nice guy but he just can't win. Don't waste your vote." It's an argument that has a lot of appeal. We all want to back a winner, don't we? Who wants to bet on a loser?

The problem with the "inevitability" argument is that it ain't necessarily so. It is an argument rooted in pure fatalism. The argument assumes that we can't affect our own destiny, and if enough people buy into it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we allow ourselves to be persuaded by it, we allow someone other than ourselves to determine the outcome of elections. This undermines the whole concept of participatory democracy. If everyone voted their own conscience, instead of allowing others to dictate their vote, we could truly restore a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Voters will do well to closely examine the proponents of the inevitability argument. Who is making the claim? Is it the media? Political consultants hired by the candidates? Supporters of a particular candidate? Pollsters who assume that the attitude of the electorate a year from now will be the same as today? What is the motive of those making the claim? Do they have an agenda? What qualifies them to foretell the future? What qualifies them to tell me what to do?


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.