Way back in the mists of time, I was peripherally involved in the campaign to prevent the introduction of an electronic voting system in Ireland1.

There was something that irritated me greatly about the conversations among those I campaigned with. It was the frequent use of the term average voter when referring to everyone else not involved one way or another in the campaign.

I still hear the term being used in similar or other contexts, and I believe it's condescending in its implications. I also hear phrases like average user and average person and what follows here applies to those terms as well.

The counter to an average voter is an exceptional voter. I've never heard someone describe themselves as an average voter, and whenever I hear the term, it's used to refer to other people. Therefore – even if it's not meant this way – when someone refers to someone else as an average voter, I can only take it to mean that the speaker somehow believes themselves to be an exceptional voter.

The notion of an average voter is meaningless in as many ways as you can look at it.

In Ireland, for example, we generally use a ranked-choice ballot where we express our preferences by placing 1 beside the name of the person we most want to be elected, 2 beside the name of the next-preferred, and so on down until either we don't care any more or there are no more names without numbers beside them. (I describe this in more detail here). I don't know that it's even possible to calculate averages of anything of importance from a bunch of ballots. Other than the actual result of the election that the ballots seek to provide, what "averages" can be calculated from these that could then be applied to the voters themselves to allow anyone to make decisions about those voters? Voting is not like the census.

But, of course, the mathematical definition of the term "average" is not normally what's meant by even the most innocent use of the term average voter. Whenever I hear it being used, it's referring to people who vote, but yet don't know or understand the issues under discussion.

Thus …

  • "the average voter knows very little about the economic factors at play," and
  • "the average voter would be surprised to learn how the technology actually works," and
  • "the average voter doesn't care about climate change".

What these statements really say is "I know or care more about this topic than others, and if those others would just wise up, they would vote differently" (i.e., they would vote exceptionally).

But this is an incorrect analysis. It fails on a number of considerations. Like, what if the speaker is, actually, wrong (which happens a lot, believe me)? Or, what if the concerns or motivations of the other person are such that they legitimately and earnestly want something other than what the speaker wants?

And, of course, the other implication is that the speaker is an expert (which is often untrue anyway) and the average voter isn't. And this is wrong as well. At least as a generalisation. I know a great many people who would not know a computer's arse from its elbow but with whom I would absolutely trust my healthcare, or my tax reporting, or my children's education, or the replacement of the CV boot/joint of my car. That's because they are experts in their fields, and just because they're not experts in someone else's field, it doesn't mean that they're merely average.

Can we dump the term, please?



For the sake of clarity, I didn't oppose electronic voting. I just opposed that system, which was subsequently shown to be dreadfully poor at protecting the integrity of the voting process.

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