Is it offensive to ask someone who they voted for?
- According to usa.gov, there is no law prohibiting people from asking who someone voted for in an election.
- A 2017 survey by the Environmental Voter Project found that over 78% of respondents “over-reported” their actual voting histories, perhaps due to a “social desirability bias” based on the perception that “it’s important to be a consistent voter.”
- The Pew Research Center reports that almost 80% of Americans “have ‘just a few’ or no friends at all across the [political] aisle.”
- Etiquette expert, Miss Manners, suggests that if you are asked who you voted for, you should “turn the question into a conversation about the nature of the secret ballot and its changing importance through history.”
Asking someone for whom they voted both disrespects the secrecy of the ballot and fosters an overly personal and divisive political climate.
Private voting was an essential election reform in the nineteenth century. Some philosophers claimed that the secret ballot undermined public spirit by allowing people to vote according to personal interest without being held responsible for their choices. However, in an unequal society, it best serves the community by protecting the safety and voice of all voters. Someone should never be put in a position where their choice to conceal their vote would be, itself, a public statement with possible repercussions.
'Who did you vote for?' is also not an opening to civic discourse. It focuses discussion on a personal, past action. Other questions (for example, 'What is your stance on [x]?' or 'Have you made up your mind about [x]?') are more likely to lead to a more productive conversation, something Americans claim they miss.
The political climate has become incredibly personal and divisive. Demonization is the most common rhetorical mode, and conspiracism, which is rampant, tends towards incoherent allegations. In today's not-so-United States, there is no way for the question 'Whom did you vote for' not to be a challenge. It's a thinly-veiled attempt at really asking, 'Are you a good person (like me) or not?'
The way to return to a conversation about issues is to move away from a discussion about votes and 'the kind of people' who cast them. Start from the assumption that each person voted with the best of intentions in the past and that you all share an interest in making a better future.
It is not offensive to ask someone who they voted for because it is a reasonable expectation that each voter is informed and holds accountability towards their decision. In fact, open communication about voting can create a sense of civic duty, which leads to higher voter turnout and, as a result, a more representative democracy. In a sense, the simple act of discussing voting highlights its importance.
There is no such thing as a separation between the political and the personal because legislative decisions can have a profound impact on the rights of citizens--particularly minority groups. For example, same-sex couples were not able to be married in the United States until 2015. Voting decisions can reveal biases--conscious or otherwise--against these groups because personal values affect voting behavior. As a result, such individuals have a right to ask whether their friends or coworkers have supported politicians who might act against their interests. Such a question does not necessitate an answer; however, some answers might reveal much about someone's character.
Overall, an open marketplace of ideas requires a willingness to challenge and be challenged in one's political beliefs, and this cannot be done in secrecy. These discussions can allow for a context where voting is not taboo, and political issues can be debated in a civil and meaningful way. Openly discussing who we vote for enables people to become more informed and understand a wider array of perspectives, which leads to a stronger and healthier democracy.