Elections are a simple affair. You go into a booth with a ballot, whether paper or virtual, you punch a series of fields, and you walk out. At the end of the period, the votes are tallied and then – surprise!

In fact, surprise has been the element of the past many elections. Upsets are common, and catastrophic changes more frequent than you would expect. It seems that the new age of polling and constant feedback has made elections less predictable, not more.

Two particularly surprising elections in 2016 were the Brexit vote in Great Britain and the American Presidential election. In both cases, polling had indicated a likely victory of the eventual loser: I was with the most pessimistic of number crunchers, Nate Silver, and saw Hillary Clinton’s probability of winning go from the initial 75% to 0% over the course of hours.

Also in both cases, the victory was won by lopsided participation rates. In both cases, older people got their way because younger people didn’t vote. Older people were turned on by a celebration of nostalgia, of the good old days that Brexit and Donald Trump would bring back. Younger people, of course, didn’t know what the old folk were talking about, having learned how awful those days were in school.

Everything has been discussed, the results dissected, the consequences of non-voting deplored. It seems, though, that the two pillars of the voting process that have stood since antiquity have not been thoroughly questioned. Which is a real problem, because those two pillars are precisely what makes young people consistently not show up.

(more…)