Why you voted

On November 4, 2008, probably 140 million Americans cast votes in the election for President of the United States. Nearly as many citizens, although eligible, chose not to. Voting is never just the educated, emotion-free weighing of issues and the subsequent casting of a ballot. Indeed, it is a ritual in which lone citizens express personal beliefs that reflect the core of who they are and what they want for their countrymen, balancing strategic behavior with the opportunity to express their inner selves to the world. In other words, voting in America has two faces: the first, a ritualistic expression of personal belief without regard to strategy; the second, a cold, calculating form of citizenship where what anthropologist Julia Paley calls the “choice-making citizen” weighs the costs and benefits of particular policies and votes accordingly. We can’t understand who votes, and how, without understanding the two faces of voting that come together in citizens’ minds and activities.

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