Clearly, the utter contempt of United Kingdom elites for voters who chose to leave the European Union has them taking a new approach. I’m not talking about a campaign to nullify the Brexit vote in some way, although that is certainly being pursued. Nor am I referring to a crusade to ratchet up the demonizing of Brexit voters as right-wing “xenophobes” and “haters,” although that crusade continues in force as well.
Rather, I’m referring to the probability of bolder attacks on a basic practice of democracy: the right to cast a ballot in the anonymity of the voting booth.
Political correctness always suppresses certain “incorrect” opinions in public. We feel it constantly in the media, on college campuses, and throughout popular culture. But what about in private? Power elites have awakened anew to the fact that secret ballots can carry grave risks for their designs. So, however unlikely it may seem to some of us today, we should expect them to seek more avenues—both direct and indirect—to thwart it.
Warning signs abound indicating this is the trajectory we’re on. The idea that any ordinary citizen can decide big questions in the privacy of a voting booth shielded from fear of retribution has always been anathema to power-mongering elites. Intimidation was the hallmark of the Remain camp’s propaganda campaign that equated Brexit voters with ignorance and bigotry. It was a campaign led by globalists flush with money, influence, and media that Brexit supporters could never hope to match. The Remain camp even extended the registration deadline to strengthen its turnout perhaps by a million or more.
Tampering with electoral processes and deadlines, along with the usual doses of intimidation and coercion, have always been mainstays of mobster-style government elites whenever they fear the natives are getting restless. We see it in microcosm whenever unions suppress the secret ballot for members or potential members. That’s why elites are so intent on controlling the narrative to influence public opinion, usually through media compliance and well-orchestrated agitation. They generally can’t win any other way.
The Distorted Mirror of Public Opinion Polling
We can begin to see the results of this intimidation and coercion in distortions of polling data. If nothing else, the UK referendum should remind us that public opinion polling reflects nothing more than the willingness of individuals to reveal their genuine opinions to pollsters. A climate of political correctness plays a huge role in this.
Whenever political incorrectness threatens to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of anyone who crosses the politically correct (PC) narrative, many people will feel inhibited in expressing a politically incorrect opinion. Polling contaminated by political correctness is likely to lose at least a few points of accuracy. How many points depends on how coercive the society has become in enforcing conformity. Currently in the West, most of us still enjoy an expectation of guaranteed free speech, especially when we know we have the right to a secret ballot. But that can change dramatically wherever the social climate gets intensely more oppressive. Did you ever consider, for example, that brutal dictators tend to enjoy votes—assumed as approval ratings—close to 100 percent?
Various news outlets ran speculation about the accuracy of polling on the referendum. A Daily Caller reporter reasoned Brexit voters were likely lying to pollsters in the wake of the assassination of a Remain supporter in Parliament. This was attributed to the phenomenon of “social desirability bias.” It also hearkened back to 2015’s “shy Tory effect,” reticence to express conservative views that resulted in an unexpected victory for conservatives at the ballot box.
This phenomenon probably accounts in part for the discrepancy between a two-point lead for the Remain camp on the eve of the referendum and the actual Brexit win of 52-48. Assuming no flaws in the methodology of the polling (and that assumption is increasingly challenged in the case of Brexit and in general) an element of self-imposed censorship likely inhibited expressing pro-Brexit opinions to pollsters.
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann of the University of Chicago’s Public Opinion Research Center analyzed this behavior in her 1980 book “The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion — Our Social Skin.” If left unchecked, such dynamics can eventually create the illusion of total conformity for the socially approved view:
As one opinion gains the interest of the majority, the minority faces threat and fear of isolation from society. As the opinion gains momentum by the majority, the minority continues to be threatened and falls deeper into their silence. It continues until the minority no longer speaks out against it, and the opinion of the perceived majority ultimately becomes a social norm.
Power elites certainly understand Noelle-Neumann’s point that “the climate of opinion depends on who talks and who keeps quiet.” When media the elites control repeatedly promotes the elitist view, they mute the other side.
Noelle-Neumann identified some interesting trends in public opinion polling in the West German federal elections of 1965, 1972, and 1976. In 1965 and 1972, the race was neck-in-neck with expectation of a win for the Christian Democrats, but ended with a bandwagon effect for Social Democrats. She noted this was due to a climate of opinion, in which Social Democrats were far more likely to express their views than Christian Democrats.
When It’s ‘Too Awful’ to Be Honest
Noelle-Neumann developed her hypothesis of the spiral of silence after seeing one of her students wearing a Christian Democratic button on her jacket one morning. Here’s how she describes the interaction with that student: ‘“I didn’t know you were a Christian Democratic supporter,’ I said to her. ‘I’m not,’ she said, ‘I just put the button on to see what it’s like.’
“I met her again at noon. She was not wearing the button, and I asked about the change. ‘It was too awful,’ she said. ‘I took it off.’ Only Social Democratic buttons and emblems appeared publicly, so it was no wonder that the relative strengths of the two parties were incorrectly assessed.”
By 1976, the public’s expectation that the Social Democrats would win was lopsided by a 7 to 1 margin, even though polling showed a much tighter race. Public perception still colored the race, but the Christian Democrat coalition won that year, shocking a public that was conditioned to perceive the elections going the other way.
They could sense, as Noelle-Neumann’s student experienced, that attacks of scorn and ridicule were socially acceptable. So they shut up, causing even more people to shut up. Apparently, Christian Democrat voters exercised so much self-censorship that they isolated themselves even from one another. At that point, their only recourse to self-expression was the secret ballot.
Preference Falsification and Secret Ballots
Self-censorship through self-silencing isn’t the whole story of how people behave when fearing social isolation for their views. Economist Timur Kuran’s 1995 book “Private Truths, Public Lies” investigates the phenomenon of “preference falsification.” That’s when people pretend to hold a view that isn’t their own, either to avoid social punishment or gain social rewards.
This is undoubtedly a common dinner party occurrence. It promotes the expressed point of view exponentially more than simple self-silencing. Kuran noted voting by secret ballot helps remove the fear factor that fuels preference falsification.
Of course, all regimes would like to believe they have a mandate from the people to govern. So even undemocratic regimes make a charade of conducting secret ballot elections. But there are ways to psychologically intimidate voters, even if they are permitted to vote in complete technical privacy. Here’s an interesting illustration from Kuran’s book describing how open voting by “secret ballot” worked in 1979 Iran:
The 1979 referendum on turning Iran into an ‘Islamic Republic’ was preceded by a campaign that threatened to brand as an infidel anyone daring to vote in the negative. Although voters would technically be anonymous, the campaign created the impression that the regime could determine the nature of any individual vote. At the polls, moreover, voters saw their identity cards stamped, fueling fears that districts with many negative votes would become the focus of interrogations and reprisals. When the initiative received an approval rating of 98.2 percent, the revolutionary regime interpreted the result as an expression of overwhelming support.
Obviously, elections conducted in such a manner are shams, even with curtained voting booths. It’s fair to say this is exactly what elitist advocates of a centralized mass state would want. When applied repeatedly, political correctness both nudges and shoves people into habits of conformity that erode independent thought.
Weakening Support for Secret Ballot
Voter fraud is a longstanding issue of concern, and several organizations such as True the Vote are dedicated to addressing it. But if we look beyond the implications of elitist rage at Brexit voters’ right to a voice, we can discern trends that threaten voter privacy. While some directly challenge voter privacy, other trends such as door-to-door intimidation are more indirect. They include:
The push for online voting in an age of cyberattacks. President Obama has strongly endorsed online voting. But according to experts, security is at risk. One noted: “Let’s face it. The number of cyberattacks is increasing, not decreasing.” Security for such operations is iffy at best, and definitely subject to hacking that could compromise voter anonymity, among other things. Voting by fax or email also compromises privacy.
A climate of “optional” secret ballots at polling places. At polling places in Fairfax County, Virginia, I’ve observed a trend I find a bit unsettling: a climate that conveys secret ballot as optional. There are no voting booths. Instead, voters take their ballots to cafeteria-length tables that are strewn here and there with little trifold cardboard screens behind which they may mark their ballots if they so choose.
As an election officer, I’ve watched as people sit down and openly mark their ballots for all to see. In a couple of cases, they compared notes with a friend or spouse. When I alerted the head election judge to it, she merely shrugged. The laxity of the layout simply promoted that behavior. If the trend continues, I can imagine a point at which using a screen is socially viewed as having something to hide, and may even indicate how you voted. That’s just the way social dynamics work, especially in today’s atmosphere of political correctness.
Direct threats and intimidation of ordinary voters and donors. In 2012, the gay news site The Washington Blade published a database (obtained from the Maryland Board of Elections) of all 110,000-plus voters who signed a petition to put to referendum the Maryland legislature’s vote to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. The database was interactive and searchable by voter address. Activists were encouraged to go door-to-door to confront anyone who had signed the petition, especially their neighbors or proprietors of local businesses. And they did. The same thing happened to donors to Proposition 8 in California, the measure to preserve traditional marriage. Kimberly Strassel explains the intensity of the harassment they faced at about 5:40 in this interview on her book “The Intimidation Game.”
Outright calls to abolish secret ballots. The Atlantic published an article entitled “Abolish the Secret Ballot.” In the current climate of political correctness I can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign of more to come. The author, Sasha Issenberg, claimed open voting would somehow increase voter turnout. He also argued secret ballots didn’t always exist in America, and therefore it needn’t exist now. (Never mind that its institution after the Civil War protected former slaves’ right to cast ballots in privacy.) As public sentiment clashes with elites’ contempt of the general public, we should expect to see the elites’ media machine produce more disingenuous arguments and op-eds to abolish secret ballot.
Card check. Union organizers have been hard at work to completely abolish secret ballots as the means for employees to decide if they want to unionize. Instead, organizers approach the employees directly to gather their signatures. There can be no doubt that the latter method—“card check”—pressures employees who may feel their livelihoods would be at stake if they don’t sign. Or do sign. Either way, secret ballot is the only way to get a clear statement of employee intent free of undue pressure, yet union bosses are fighting that. We should pay attention to card check because it basically replaces secret ballot with opinion polling. If applied to general elections, that would be a dream come true for elitists who can use psychological manipulation to get the results they desire.
Organized rioting to intimidate voters. This is a troubling turn of events in American politics. We’re seeing an increasing surge of it with violent mobs invading Donald Trump rallies and harassing his supporters. The obvious effect and intent is to squash free expression through violence and to cultivate a media narrative that suppresses opposing views. We’ve been promised more at the GOP convention in Cleveland. It all makes me wonder if these tactics could gain greater use to prevent poll-watching.
All of these developments—from controlled media’s instigation of the spiral of silence to outright voter intimidation—cast a pall over the future of free expression of voter will through the privacy of the ballot box.
So let’s not take voter privacy for granted. Let’s insist on it as a critical element of election integrity. Every one of the thousands of precincts in this nation should include election officials who have these concerns. Every precinct in America should also include poll watchers with these concerns, and have actual voting booths that guarantee a secret ballot, rather than diluting privacy by making it lax and optional.
If you have these concerns, consider serving as an election officer or poll watcher. Check your local board of elections to learn how to become one. If we all pitch in and insist on secret ballots and honest elections, the elites who seek to run our lives won’t stand much of a chance. But we ignore the warning signs at our peril.