The UK General Election 2017

election2017

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.

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5 comments

  1. Firstly, you have at least one follower, since this post showed up on my blog reading list 🙂

    The ‘My Vote Won’t Make A Difference’ one is interesting. Yes, yo may live in a constituency that was won on a narrow margin. On the other hand, your constituency could be one where the incumbent party has a massive majority, like mine does. In mine, the vote for the winning candidate is always in excess of the total vote for *all* other candidate. So even if everyone opposed to the incumbent voted tactically against him for a single party, he’d still win. That makes it hard to turn out. But, for the record, I did. The only reason I can see, though, is because even a reduced majority sends a message. You have to play a long game, chipping away at it.

    Sadly I probably have one general election left in me before I become ineligible to vote. Unless, strangely enough, the Tories don’t renege on their election promise to extend ex-pat voting eligibility to life.

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  2. In my experience, the people who say “They Are All The Same” mean that all politicians are the same on a personal level, rather than that their policies are all the same. They point at the expenses scandal to show that they’re all just out to get what they can for themselves, and don’t care about the people they represent. I think they’re wrong, but I also think that you’ve mis-understood the grievance.

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  3. Here in Scotland we have Single Transferrable Voting for Local Authority elections which, at least partially, deals with the “My Vote Won’t Make A Difference” argument.

    I don’t think that in a democracy people should be forced to vote … but a legal requirement to turn up at a polling station on the day has a certain appeal. Just so long as ATOS isn’t involved in deciding if you’re fit to attend!!

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    • Personally I’m a fan of mandatory voting, which we have here in Australia. It’s considered one of the obligations of citizenship. Since all one has to do is turn up (you can submit a spoiled ballot if you wish), we vote at the weekend and we have both postal and electronic voting options available, it’s not that hard. And it’s possible to opt out if you can show a good enough reason; we did so in a by-election last year, because we were on holiday where we’d have no internet access, for the period covering postal votes being sent out 🙂

      We also have STV at both federal and state level (not sure about local, as I’ve not voted in one of those yet) for our House of Representatives (equivalent of the Commons), and we have a form of PR for the Senate (our upper house). Neither system is perfect, but I think the results it gives are marginally fairer than FPTP.

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  4. I follow you through a reader wordpress never seems to work for me. My career is in elections in Canada and I think I can add some nuance. Of course, these are just my thoughts not those of my employer, they are presented in a strictly theoretical manner and should not be considered as showing support for or against any political party, ideology, or voting method.

    As you note there is both apathy and lack of engagement on the part of voter. No matter what “we” do, an elector still has to take an action to drop a ballot in a box or send it in by mail or other means.

    A secondary consideration is who has the responsibility to encourage participation “get out the vote” – the political parties or the electoral authority or a combination of both? The two major parties over here, roughly equivalent to Labour and Conservative, have differing opinions each with their own merits.

    This leads to a third consideration that has played out in some elections in the US – parties or candidates don’t want you to vote unless they know you are going to vote for them. There are the obvious cases where youth tends to vote left of centre so right leaning parties would not encourage initiatives to get under 25s to the polls. It can go deeper than that. If a candidate can count on 35% of the vote, their primary opposition 25%, and a third candidate 15% then that first candidate will want to ensure that as few as possible of the remaining 25% undecided voters cast a ballot. Their votes aren’t need to win a plurality and as undecideds, they are a random factor that needs to be brought under control.

    I have read reports where in some elections, voting has been intentionally interrupted at certain polls for brief but very specific times. If you can create long lineups for the hour or two just as everyone is heading home from work, you can dissuade middle or working class voters from casting a ballot. Once they get home they are much less likely to leave again to go back to the poll. Meanwhile, voting carries on interrupted at a senior’s home or college campus in the same riding – depending on how one wishes to skew things. As you have seen in the UK and as happens frequently elsewhere, a seat and sometime a majority can hang on a handful of ballots.

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