Voter turnout is one of the most important aspects of the liberal democratic model. In democracy’s current incarnation, a voice is not truly heard until a vote is cast on election day. With less than a month until election day in the United Kingdom, Thomas Augur discusses voter turnout particularly amongst young people.
Voter participation was around 60% in the last three UK general elections. In the US, turnout has been much the same in the last three US presidential elections. More broadly, turnout – across all established democracies – has been declining since the 1990s.
This raises important questions:
- Who are the non-voters?
- Why aren’t they voting?
- What is the impact?
- How can we change this going forward?
Who are the non-voters?
As a general rule, non-voters are younger, less wealthy and less educated than voters.
In the US, according to the Washington Post, “American politics is dominated by the wealthy, the old and the educated”. These voters are generally more conservative and thus are generally Republican voters. An increase in turnout in future US elections would thus most likely benefit the Democrats.
In the UK, according to a Survation study, non-voters in the 2015 election would be more likely to vote for Labour (32%) than Conservative (15%). Bottom line – an increase in turnout in future UK elections would most likely benefit Labour over Conservative.
Why aren’t they voting?
Why don’t people vote?
- They are not interested in politics
- They don’t think their vote will make a difference
- They are not inspired by any of the candidates
Many people, especially young people, are altogether not interested in politics. They view it as an adult foreign language, which they do not speak, and would prefer to ignore. We’ve all been there.
There is also a group of people who would consider voting, but who never feel connected to or moved by any of the current candidates or leaders. As a result, they actively choose not to back any candidate, or – more passively – do not view voting as worth their time.
Still others do not see how their own, single vote can make real change in their immediate world. That is, they have little confidence in their personal political efficacy. People without children and/or without personal wealth often can fall into this category.
What is the impact?
Fifteen years ago, we saw an example of how every single vote can matter in an important election.
In 2000, the outcome of the US presidential election came down to the results in Florida. The Florida statewide contest ultimately required a re-count, an extra month of time, and a US Supreme Court ruling. Ultimately, it was determined that George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by a mere 537 votes in Florida, thus giving him the presidency. And, the rest is history, as they say.
So, if anyone tells you that a few missing votes don’t really matter, you can remind them of that.
How can we change this?
In certain areas, change is already happening. Social media has had and will continue to have a huge impact on the democratic process and elections. Voter participation will likely increase in the future, as we find cyber-secure ways to allow more people to vote on the Internet, thus making voting easier and more widespread.
But there is much more we can do to raise awareness around voting. For example, more education in school for young people around civic issues, voting rights, and the practical importance of voting could help them view politics and voting differently.
In the UK, there needs to be a longer and more vocal campaign aimed at increasing turnout in the run up to elections. The short campaign cycle in this country relative to the US means that potential non-voters never become invested in an election cycle, and hence fail to vote. Perhaps an organisation could be created with the primary purpose of raising political awareness on an ongoing basis, thereby increasing voter participation in election years.
And then there are our leaders themselves. Great leaders find ways to connect with us, and share their vision for the future. Given that we live an increasingly ‘noisy’ world, with short attention spans and many distractions, our leaders must find new and better ways to get our attention and make complex issues more digestible for us.
One leader who has proven that he knows how to inspire people is, of course, Barack Obama. If you need to be inspired, or re-inspired, take a few minutes to watch this video:
Fired up! Ready to go!
Fired up! Ready to go!
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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