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?

Americans are fully capable of deciding for themselves who they want to be their leaders. They don't have to be told who to vote for, and they certainly shouldn't surrender their independent judgment when it comes to electing a candidate. Voters should examine the candidates, investigate their records and listen to their rhetoric. Does the candidate's record match their rhetoric? Is there a disconnect between the two? If so, why? How recently formed are the candidate's views? Are their current views consistent with their past ones? If not, why not? Do the candidate's views reflect the voter's values?

Rather than allowing ourselves to be told how to vote by others, we will do well to make that important decision for ourselves. We are, after all, a nation of people, not lemmings. Herd instincts may work well for cattle or sheep, but they should not control the decisions of human beings.

So, who you gonna vote for? You decide.


Ken Connor

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