The Case of the Silent Voter

3 ¾ min

By now you may have heard of the silent voter.

The silent voter is nothing new. The New York Times identified this phenomenon way back in November of 1886, describing it as “the vote which helps make what are called tidal waves in politics.”

In more recent years, the silent voter seems to reside in the domain of the Trump campaign. President Donald Trump himself is counting on the silent voter to help him overcome his poll deficit, while Rasmussen Reports is even polling to find out just how many silent Trump voters there are. Of those who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance, the Rasmussen poll explains, 17 percent of them “are less likely to let others know how they intend to vote in the upcoming election.” Because of this, it is thought that this year’s election night could be another surprise.

Leaving aside the outcome for now, what intrigues me is the fact that many people won’t say which candidate they are voting for, particularly to pollsters. Such hesitancy implies a fear of retaliation for unpopular views; a cowardice, if you will, from those disinterested in standing up and speaking out.

However, such impressions may change after reading Neil Postman’s opinions on the subject. In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman addresses the issue of the continuous news cycle and the role political opinion plays in it:

Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.

Looking at it this way, breaking this vicious news cycle by refusing to give one’s opinion to a pollster actually seems an exemplary thing to do.

Postman wasn’t the only one who expressed concern over the vicious news cycle which has overtaken our lives. Richard Weaver recognized it as well, noting that “modern publication wishes to minimize discussion.”

“Despite many artful pretensions to the contrary,” Weaver wrote about the press, “it does not want an exchange of views, save perhaps on academic matters. Instead, it encourages men to read in the hope that they will absorb.” Because of this, the news does “more of the average man’s thinking for him than he suspects.”

We’ve suspected this truth for years, and perhaps that’s one reason why many “silent voters” are no longer answering polls. The more individuals who refuse to play the game, the sooner the charade will end.

But what do we do in the meantime? How do we remain the mature, well-informed citizens that we should be even while withdrawing from the continual “Niagara” of information that cycles through the news?

Weaver offers a helpful clue. Thomas Jefferson, he notes, while a fan of newspapers in his younger years, became disenchanted by them as he grew older. “[W]e find him in his seventieth year writing to John Adams: ‘I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much the happier.’” In essence, Jefferson exchanged the news media of his time for the thoughts of historians, mathematicians, scientists, and theologians.

What if we did the same and exchanged much of our obsessive news consumption for the works of past thinkers, not only the ones Jefferson mentions, but other authors of Western civilization’s great works?

Some might say we’d become hopelessly out of touch, but I question that. These thinkers, after all, provide us with a glimpse into the past. History repeats itself, and by becoming familiar with history, we grow to recognize patterns reoccurring in our own time, and (perhaps unfortunately) can make fairly educated guesses about what’s coming next.

Furthermore, many of these past thinkers had a deeper sense of morality than we do these days. By immersing ourselves in their writings, we would not only get a better grasp on our situation in the broader historical sense, but we might also better understand the ethics, heart attitudes, and posture of the soul needed to weather these difficult times.


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Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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“Despite many artful pretensions to the contrary,” Weaver wrote about the press, “it does not want an exchange of views, save perhaps on academic matters. Instead, it encourages men to read in the hope that they will absorb.” This right here is what I detest about the "explainer" style of news media, the condescending, sanctimonious "akshually" written by little to no practical life experience model exemplified by, Buzzfeed and others. Maybe it's a generational thing, but I'm an Xer, married, kids, and I can't stand the way Ezra Klein and Ben Smith styled journalists talk "at me." Serves them right if people like me mislead them, deceive them or just outright refuse to engage with them because I want them to learn what it's like to not only get something wrong (the 2016 election for example) but to get it so completely wrong that maybe, just maybe, they learn to question their assumptions and shake their arrogance a little bit.


I used to be a voracious reader, but drifted away from it under specific circumstances. I've made the conscious decision to renew my dedication to ink-on-paper, partially because of the utter garbage I find myself barraged with online. As much as I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to on FB, the sewage that is politics has become indigestible. That we, as a collective entity, are repeating history has become obvious. It seems the loudest voices are incapable of producing anything novel, and yet insist that they are on the forefront of socio-political "progress". Such a shame. Sitting in my most comfortable chair with my puppy in my lap and a book in front of me is infinitely more enjoyable than many of the alternatives.


Thrifty Magpie
I would love to see some good, specific, lists of suggested reading, preferably with blurbs describing why each piece is suggested. I did not attend college, but enjoy continuing to learn.


I am one of those that refuses to talk to pollsters. I will vote for Trump and I was not a big supporter of his in 2016. I live in a county that voted for Trump 58% to 35% Hillary in 2016. In my small town I have noticed many Biden/Harris yard signs, probably ~3-1 in favor of Biden over Trump. My guess is many Trump supporters aren't willing to advertise their support, especially with the rioting and harassing that has been going around the country. Hard for me to believe that Trump won't win the states that he did in 2016, maybe even add a couple... NV, MN? I think there is a scores of "silent voters" and they don't seem to be Harris/Biden supporters.


I totally understand what this article is speaking, but if the base of the Silent Majority is examined, you would find not necessarily a learned group of people, but a group of hard working discerning Americans not willing to share their views with any polling organization. Besides, everyone knows that by polling a specific group of people, you will get the results you seek. I've seen this time and time again and give little credit to any Polls -- especially at Presidential Election time! I also "respect" those in the Silent Majority for wanting to keep their votes private. It is their "right" as an American Citizen and adds excitement to the vote counting process. Now if we can only STOP those wayward devious souls that insist on ballot stuffing, we might just have a moral upstanding election!