Monday, May 7, 2012

Unrepresentative democracy

I've been watching recent elections with the bemused detachment of one who isn't allowed to vote in them.

Last week's local elections in Britain, for example, gave us the following results: Labour 38%, Tory 31%, LibDem 15%, others 15%. The  A month ago in Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer was returned with a huge 58% of the vote.

However, that really doesn't give a fair picture of how people feel. In the UK, turnout was just under 31%. In Orlando, turnout was a mere 15%. When you apply those numbers to the results, things look very different. In Britain, just 11.8% of the electorate supported Labour, 9.5% supported the Tories, and 4.6% supported the LibDems. In Orlando, Dyer's "landslide" victory was achieved with the support of just 8% of the electorate.

I'd like to see more media report on the results as a proportion of the electorate, rather than as a proportion of votes cast. Then we'd see just how little support our elected leaders actually have. I'd hope that would lead to two outcomes.

First, I'd like to see more people actually going to the polls. Voting matters. And with turnout this low, it doesn't take much to change the results. A few percent is all that's necessary to make a difference, not just between the top candidates, but between all the candidates. In Orlando, if just 6% of people - that's about one person from each street - had come out and voted for either the third or fourth place candidate, Dyer's "easy" victory wouldn't have happened. I'm not opposed to Dyer, but it's important to realize that he's in power because most people couldn't be bothered to express an opinion, not because most people support him, and how easily that could have gone the other way.

And second, I'd like to see politicians of all sides realize how much faith their people have lost in them. It sickens me to see these guys bragging about their victories when they should be ashamed of how much they have utterly failed to engage with the people they claim to represent. More to the point, trying to achieve anything is unrealistic when 90% of voters do not support whoever's in charge. If we're going to get out of this recession, we need leaders who can galvanize and inspire their communities. It's clear that none of the current lot can actually do that.

I know the counter-arguments well. There aren't any good candidates, so you're not going to vote for any of them. Well, that's part of the problem. You're not going to vote, so the candidates don't need to appeal to you. They really don't care if the majority of people hate them: they only care about winning a majority of the minority who can be bothered to express their opinion on polling day. By not voting, you've effectively told the candidates that your opinion doesn't matter and your vote doesn't count, and as long as you continue to do that, you'll get politicians who are happy to continue ignoring you and focus on the demands of the extremists.

So I reiterate: let's see election results as a proportion of the electorate, not just as a proportion of the votes case, then we can all see how easily a genuinely popular candidate could overturn the status quo.


BiggsTrek said...

How do you feel about compulsory voting? I used to hate it back in Australia, but I also see how it would address some of the issues. (Note: I, too, cannot vote here in the USA, nor back home in AU).

Matt Kelland said...

I'm in favour of compulsory voting, but with one important proviso: there should be the option to vote for None Of The Above. That way, if you want to state that none of the candidates are good enough, then you can do so. You're not forced to vote for a candidate you don't agree with, but you're making a deliberate choice to make that statement. That's very different to "can't be bothered to register an opinion".

I also seriously believe that if a significant proportion of the electorate voted NOTA, we'd see some huge changes. Politicians and media can ignore a lot of people doing nothing, but they can't ignore a lot of people who are telling them in no uncertain terms that they believe the entire political spectrum is unfit to represent them.