The General election is fast approaching, which means that it’s time for people to decide who to vote for. It is generally accepted that voting is an important part of a functioning democracy, nevertheless there are many people who don’t partake in voting – just 65% turned out to vote in 2010. Why is this the case? There are many different reasons, one is simply because people are badly informed – they can’t name candidates that are running, they are unaware of the massive effects that government policy has on their lives, and they are generally apathetic towards politics.
Barack Obama recently proposed the idea of compulsory voting in order to fix this problem, however not only does this violate freedom of speech (freedom of speech includes the freedom to not speak), but also the idea that you can create a well-informed public by simply forcing them to vote is absurd. Surely it should be the job of politicians to rouse people from their apathy by giving them something to vote for, by having strong set of principles and by addressing the major issues that people are going to agree with. Forcing people to vote sounds like something that would occur in North Korea (which it actually does) or the Soviet Union, not in the ‘free world’.
So, why do people care so little about politics? Well, it could be argued that it is completely rational to be ignorant of politics. The fact is, it takes a lot of time to become well-informed. You have to spend time following the news either by reading a newspaper, reading online or watching the news, or ideally all of these things. The time spent following politics could be spent doing other thing that are more productive, joyful and important to your own personal life, such as family and career. That is not to say that becoming politically aware is a bad thing, however some people simply have more important things to worry about. They see politics as an annoying hindrance rather than something that is beneficial. Fundamentally there is an incentive problem with voting. The chance that your vote will change the outcome of an election is practically zero, and the political process has done little more than leave people frustrated.
But it’s not just badly informed people who don’t vote. There are many well-informed people who choose not to vote. They recognise that government performance has simply not improved by voting in different parties. Whether it has been the Labour party or the Conservative party in power, the problems are still the same. The warfare-welfare state continues to grow and our civil liberties are being eroded. Politicians remain untrustworthy, with a consistently bad record of lying, false promises and manipulation. Nick Clegg lied about tuition fees. The Labour party initiated NHS privatisation and expanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Public spending increased in both Margaret Thatcher’s and David Cameron’s Conservative governments. What we constantly see is a pattern of the opposite outcomes of what each were elected to do.
So there are many valid and rational reasons why people don’t vote. That is not to say voting is completely useless. If you see a candidate that you genuinely agree with, vote for them. However don’t be surprised when they change their policies if they come to power. Though, it’s not all bad; at the moment UK politics is becoming a multi-party system, rather than a two-party system. This could potentially be good for democracy, with more options of who to vote for, maybe we will see an increase in voter turnout in this year’s election.