I thought long and hard about writing this post as politics is a topic that could open me up to a lot of “feedback” from readers. However, as I have no followers yet, apart from myself (thanks WordPress for making me think someone was interested in my page, only for me to realise that your application set me as my own follower), and because I am going to try and be non-partisan I decided to go for it.
I do have a political standpoint which may well become clearer as I write more posts, or if you see any of my comments on Facebook or Twitter, but in general what I have been thinking about since Thursday is how many people engage in the democratic process in this country.
The turnout for this election was 68.7% of the electorate. That is the highest it has been since 2001 but still, in my opinion, shockingly low especially considering the availability of postal voting. Even taking into account that a certain number of the electorate may be unexpectedly incapacitated on polling day (illness or the like) that means that three out of every ten people, who are eligible to vote, did not.
It makes me wonder why? and I thought about the three main reasons I hear for non-voting and whether those reasons stack up.
The ‘My Vote Won’t Make A Difference’ group
Before launching into the argument that ‘if we all thought this way then no-one would turn up to vote at all’ it is important to point out that this election has delivered some very close results in a number of constituencies. Lets take North East Fife, which was held by the Scottish National Party over the Liberal Democrats by two votes. As seen here there were a more seats won this time with majorities of less than 50 votes. In 2015 the Gower and Derby North constituencies were both won by less than 50 votes. Furthermore you can see here a list of constituencies won by less that 30 votes since 1886. Regardless of your political leanings it is clear that every vote really can make a difference. What if your constituency is the one decided by such a small number of votes and you did not turn up?
The ‘They Are All The Same’ group
Throughout the 90’s and 00’s there was a noticeable centrist position shared by the major parties. It could be argued that there was very little between the parties and the coalition of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in 2010 did little to dispel this viewpoint. However, since the emergence of Corbyn, Farron and May it can be hard to find common ground between the major English parties. When you look to Scotland and Wales you may find some shared policies with other parties but the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru both have distinct personalities. When you consider this along with the smaller parties, perhaps previously seen as single issue, such as the Green Party or UKIP it would be difficult to argue that they were clones of any other as they all seek to distance themselves from what they see as the establishment norm.
The ‘I Don’t Know What They Stand For’ group
Between 1950 and 1992 the average voter turnout for general elections was 77%. In fact in 1950 it reached the dizzy heights of 83.9%. This was across a period where your access to party policy was generally via the mainstream media, national TV and newspapers, by ordering a party manifesto to be delivered by post, and by doorstep leafleting and visits from party members. In 2017 you can download party manifesto’s online and get accessible versions for visual impared or blind voters. On top of this there are online services, such as isidewith.com, which enable you to answer questions on key topics to see which party best matches your personal position. If your marry these services up with TV debates, traditional leafleting and party political broadcasting it could be argued that if you do not know what a party stands for that is only because you have not bothered to look.
There are, of course, a myriad of other reasons that a voter may not turn up but it is hard to support anyone offering the above reasons without concluding that complacency and apathy are more likely the real reason. If complacency and apathy are the real reasons that three in ten people do not bother to cast their votes then we may have to conclude that there is nothing to be done to engage them short of introducing compulsory voting… and if we go down that road do we really need more people voting who base were they put their X on nothing more than a whim on the day?
Images borrowed from The Guardian.