Pascal’s Vote: Why You May As Well Cast a Ballot

In the mid 17th century, French polymath Blaise Pascal wrote a bit of theological logic commonly known as “The Wager”. In his wager, Pascal presents the reader with a table outlining the possibilities of religious belief: 

God existsGod does not exist
You believe and live according to ChristianityInfinite gain (eternity in Heaven) + finite loss (sacrifice of some earthly pleasures)Finite loss (sacrifice of some earthly pleasures)*
You do not believe and do not live according to ChristianityFinite gain (participation in earthly pleasures that would otherwise be sacrificed by subscription to Christian moral doctrine) + infinite loss (eternity in Hell)Finite gain (participation in earthly pleasures that would otherwise be sacrificed by subscription to Christian moral doctrine)
*I would further argue that there is a finite gain in addition to the finite loss to be had in this quadrant, as having a spiritual practice is positively correlated with increased quality of life according to a variety of psychological studies, but this is merely my own opinion and addition.   

It is evident from this table that the most logical option is to pursue belief in God and live as though He exists. There are counterarguments to Pascal’s logic, but I am not compelled by any of them and will not waste time refuting them here as such a digression lies outside the scope of my purposes. 

My interest in Pascal’s Wager at this moment is not its theological merit; instead, it is its sophistication in aiding a person who has yet to decide if she is voting. I argue here not that the reader ought to vote for one candidate over the other; I merely and humbly entreat the reader to vote at all. What little peaceful and undisruptive political power is held by the citizenry of the United States lies in voting. According to figures published by Penn State University, only 58.1% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential election (https://guides.libraries.psu.edu/post-election-2016/voter-turnout). This statistic leads one to question the quality and validity of our democracy if roughly 40% of those eligible to vote fail to do so. While there are a number of barriers that prevent many people from voting ranging from insecure transportation to outright voter suppression, there exists not a negligible many who simply refuse to vote from a) laziness or b) dissatisfaction with the voting system. To the former citizens I have little to say; if one cannot be imposed upon to cast their ballot, they are certainly not reading my blog. The latter group is whom I primarily address. 

Friends, I understand your frustration and exhaustion. How long have we clamored in the streets, in courtrooms, on social media platforms, for change of substance and lasting effect? How have we been answered? With black squares, the renaming of streets, and a seemingly forced choice between two conservative white men for the leader of this nation. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters are still being beaten, jailed, killed, and vilified posthumously. As a person acutely sensitive to subjugation, I understand and feel genuinely your indignation. Many of us have decided that we will punish the establishment by withholding our votes or voting third party. My friends, this will not do. As sexy as this sort of rebellion may seem, the reality will be far less pleasing than we might imagine. Despite the arguments that voting for a third party candidate is a legitimate political exercise, this election, upon which millions of lives depend, is not the election to sacrifice logic for pretty principle. Doing so endangers the most vulnerable in our society. There are many reasons that some feel led to vote third party, but the main reason I observe is that of pride. Many people do not want to bow to our overlords. They vote to rebel. Friends, I feel the same inclination, but I humbly suggest that to do so is to sacrifice your fellows on the altar of your own vanity. Is thinking of oneself as a maverick more important than using the vote to protect the rights and liberties of our marginalized peoples? Moral purity is a privilege. Thus, I conclude that voting third party is irresponsible and selfish in most cases. I acknowledge that there are people whose life experiences make the choice between the two mainstream candidates absolutely impossible. However, for those of us who possess the psychological fortitude to do so, I encourage us to make the personal sacrifice that is working within the two party system, at least for now

Thus, I move on to the other rebellious possibility: not voting at all. Many of the people who will not be voting at all refuse to do so because they believe that their vote does not matter. Here is where I believe that Pascal’s Wager is of use. There are essentially four options, outlined in the same manner as Pascal’s Wager: 

Voting worksVoting doesn’t work
You vote Gain + No lossNo gain + No loss
You don’t voteNo gain + LossNo gain + No loss
(With gain and loss being measured in influence)

As you can see, the most logical option is to vote, because at worst, your vote has no impact. There is no harm experienced by the individual casting her ballot or society at large by participating in suffrage, but there is a potential harm inflicted if one does not vote, as she is relinquishing what little political influence she has and failing to use that influence in the interest of herself and most vulnerable fellows. Of course by most vulnerable fellows, I refer to women, people of color, people who depend on government subsidized healthcare, people who identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, immigrants, the working class, etc.  


Some contend that there is harm in voting. The two criticisms I have observed of voting at all are a) that voting distracts from other and assumedly more effective (a dubious attribution) varieties of political action and b) breeds complacency in the American populace. The former claim I refute outright: are we not capable of multitasking? I know for a fact that most of us are very capable of multitasking as I see everyday countless individuals complete various tasks at once all while typing away on their smartphones (myself included). Generations Z through the Baby Boomers are talented multitaskers, and we are the primary generations constituting politically active individuals in the United States. Thus, I see no contention between voting and other forms of political action. We may very well do both. They are in no way mutually exclusive. The latter claim requires more of an acknowledgement. It is possible that the supposed illusion of democracy is being used by our capitalist overlords to trick us into believing that we have power. However, I do not believe that failing to vote would change this state of affairs, even if it were true. If it were true, the best course of action would still be to vote just in case the supposition that voting is an illusion were false, and then in addition to that political action pursue some other avenue of influence (e.g., direct action).

By adapting Pascal’s Wager, it is obvious that the most logical option is to vote, regardless of our faith in the American democratic system. By no means am I suggesting that we only vote. I propose that we vote and participate in other forms of political action. By doing so, we cover all our bases, and ensure the best interests of ourselves, our communities, and our country. If true revolutionaries such as Angela Davis can stomach the discomfort of voting this season, certainly us mere mortals can follow suit. I hope you all will join me at either the mailbox or ballot box to exercise the right hard won for us by our ancestors. We owe it to them, and we owe it to us.

Published by Grace Hart

Grace is an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and Philosophy in Boston.

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