Smiling Because It’s Over, Not Happy Because It Happened: My First Presidential Voting Experience

As part of my continuing #BlogBlog Project, I’m publishing blogs with student voices from the University of Delaware. They’ve been writing very personal and analytical perspectives from first-time voters. This blog, voted as best by his peers, comes from J.C. Reilly, a senior in Political Science with minors in Legal Studies, Political Communication, and Public Policy. He wrote it the day of the Election, and the last paragraph include his thoughts post-election.

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This was written on the afternoon of November 8th before Election Day results were in.

I pictured my first voting experience much differently. When I was younger I looked at 2016 as a chance for me to become inspired by a candidate and exercise a right I had waited practically my whole life for. I looked at the way President Obama energized so many different factions of the population in 2008 and yearned for that same feeling in my own life.

When I went out to vote on Tuesday, it felt like a chore. It was almost like I couldn’t comprehend the exclusivity of this privilege, a right that so many had fought for before me. I did not feel like a great American.

Admittedly, I was not thrilled with our candidates, but I ultimately chalked up my mundane experience to election fatigue.

Shockingly, I was not the only person in America who felt this way.

This morning, Politico and the Morning Consult released an early exit poll that showed 85 percent of Americans just wanted the election to be over with.

I mean, how scary is that? This isn’t a homework assignment or a nine-to-five where you just want to get off the clock. This is an election that will decide the most important job in the world and alter our country’s future for years to come. Yet, the overwhelming sentiment is “just be done with it, please.”

More terrifying for me is the fact that I shared in this attitude, even when I initially set out to become passionate about this election.

Heather Wilhem of the Chicago Tribune encapsulated some of my thoughts when she penned a great op-ed on America’s newfound willingness to vote early, directly correlating it to their desire to get the whole thing over with. Speaking on the topic, Wilhem said, “We can debate the merits or demerits of early voting, but one thing is clear: Many Americans are fixin', as they say down South, to get this election over and done. After a sad streak of more than a dozen fractious months, the most popular vote this year seems to be to tell the election of 2016 not to let the door hit it on the way out.”

Another explanation for the election fatigue that myself and so many other Americans were feeling on Tuesday can be attributed to the wealth of information that is available in 2016. On the surface, this seems like it would aid the average voter and help them make an informed, civic decision. On the contrary, the sheer volume of news sources in 2016 and the modern phenomenon of 24/7 updates has left many voters dizzy, with no desire to go seek out information that would perhaps awaken political sentiment.

This information issue is discussed in one of our readings from class. Speaking on human psychology, Jackson and Jamison suggest, “Humans are not by nature the fact-driven, rational beings we like to think we are. We get the facts wrong more often than we think we do. And we do so in predictable ways: we engage in wishful thinking. We embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject information that challenges them. Our minds tend to take shortcuts which can take some effort to avoid.”

These “mental shortcuts” that Jackson and Jamieson discuss can help explain election fatigue in the sense that they blockade the willingness to look for new information. This subconscious rejection of opposing information undermines meaningful political research that would help tremendously with alleviating this nationwide fatigue. Instead, the constant stream of the same stories and news clips has left people mentally exhausted here in the first week of November.

Additionally, with data so readily available in today’s society, research on issues also falls by the wayside because there is no incentive to go out and actually search. Updates can be delivered straight to your phone. The oversaturation of information and general human irrationality in regards to mental shortcuts are part of the recipe that can help explain America’s “get it over with” attitude this election season.

In the end, I might have set my initial expectations too high, but I’m still disappointed with my voting day experience. With that being said, I am strangely comforted by the fact that many Americans felt the same way I did and were generally dissatisfied with their choices, even if this is not a great sign for America.

I think it’s optimistic, and not all unrealistic, to think we can only go up from here. Looking towards the future, I’m excited that this was only my first Presidential vote and I have so many more to come. Hopefully, we can all get it right in 2020.

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Post-Op: Re-reading this blog a month later was an interesting exercise, to say the least. More than anything, I think my statement regarding how many Americans saw voting as a chore and wanted the election to be “over with” was a double-edged statement. Sure, data showed that many Americans were dissatisfied with their choices, but in the Midwest there were millions of people who felt like their vote meant something. Essentially, these were the people that decided our country’s future for the next four years and myself, along with the media, had neglected them.

Written by J.C. Reilly, University of Delaware Senior in Political Science

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