Sheeple is basically defined as a derogatory noun referring to a group of people who are docile, foolish, and as easily led as a herd of sheep.
When you discover that the word sheeple appears not just in user-contributed references such as Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary but also in such august, well-vetted tomes as the Merriam Webster Dictionary and Oxford Living Dictionary, you realize that herd mentality and herd behavior are issues of serious concern. In all these sources, sheeple is basically defined as a derogatory noun referring to a group of people who are docile, foolish, and as easily led as a herd of sheep. Sheeple don’t think independently (indeed, some aficionados of the word don’t believe that sheeple think at all). Sheeple do what those around them do. Among sheeple, the herd is the mentality.
We actually have many words for this phenomenon: The bandwagon effect, herd mentality, herd behavior, groupthink. There may be subtle differences but each of these terms implies that the individual has been subsumed by the group. It is as though the herd itself were a sentient being, capable of forming and acting upon thoughts of its own. Somehow, the herd has a will and a moral compass that is more powerful and compelling than the will and moral compass of each individual comprising the group.
This isn’t true, of course; the herd does not have a mind of its own. Yet the power of herd mentality is that people ignore this truth. When individuals cede their authority to the herd, they have no choice but to move with the herd or be trampled.
One can readily see the danger of herd mentality. Individuals do get trampled when the herd begins to race along. An angry herd can become an angry mob in an instant. One imagines that there might be voices within the minds of many individuals in the herd saying, perhaps this isn’t a good idea…. Yet the herd stampedes forward, sometimes with catastrophic results.
What does this have to do with voting? Everything, of course. Herd mentality can easily shape voting outcomes. We have written before about voice voting vs. show-of-hand voting vs. electronic voting. Imagine how easily herd mentality could shape the outcome of a voice vote or show-of-hands vote. It would take singular strength of character to be the one voice refusing to say baaaa.
In contrast, the anonymity afforded by electronic voting or secret ballot alleviates the pressure created by a herd mentality. Such methods create opportunities for individual expression, which increases the likelihood that individuals will vote in ways consistent with their values and consciences – regardless of how compelling the urging of the herd may be. If a group of voters is churning towards the toxicity of a herd mentality, a method of voting that enables one to vote in a manner inconsistent with the herd – without bringing the wrath of the herd down on one’s shoulders – makes it more likely that cooler heads may prevail in the face of what might otherwise turn out to be an ugly and dangerous stampede.