When I became old enough to vote, I held to the belief that voting was a civic duty. The vote was a hard-earned right by our predecessors, and we would be neglect in our responsibility as citizens if we do not participate in the democratic process by going out to vote.
But voting is just a token gesture toward democracy. It is meaningless unless your vote is backed by proper engagement with ideas and policies at stake. By voting without being sufficiently aware of what policies and personalities you are supporting, you only contribute to the electoral noise.
But you may ask: “Why is this a problem? Surely that represents the current electoral mood of the constituency”.
This would be a valid belief to hold if the voting mechanism was Proportional Representation. But in the UK, and in most countries with elected representatives, you vote for a local representative – your vote does not directly translate into support for the party you voted for. If your elected representative loses by only 1 vote, they would still lose the election. Extrapolate this behaviour across the country, and you will find that a party might come second place in many constituencies throughout
Imagine you live in a strongly Conservative area. You might think – my parents and my grandparents is voting Conservative, as is everyone I know who are into politics. They seem to know what they’re doing, so I guess I’ll vote for the Conservatives also . What this accomplishes is that the constituency becomes even more strongly Conservative, thanks to the follow-the-herd vote of you and others who think like you, making this a ‘safe’ Conservative seat. In case this comes across as an attack on the Conservative party, this same principle also applies to the Labour party (I’ve literally heard a Labour voter say this).
This means that your representative will not have to work hard to earn and maintain your vote. In a safe seat, your representative does not actually have any incentive to represent your best interests. After all, since they are ‘safe’, what do they risk if they don’t actually do their job? Political representatives are only accountable to the people who put them there. In safe seats, this means the political party who selected and nominated them for the candidacy of that constituency. In safe seats, politicians are loyal only to their political party, not to you, the voter.
Granted, the above scenario is a worst case scenario of voters simply following the herd. But picture a more balanced scenario: Imagine you live in a constituency in which 20% of the voters are supporters of the Conservative party, and 10% support the Labour party, and 10% support one of the smaller parties. But the rest of the constituency don’t really care which party gets into power. If these voters don’t vote, the Labour party might realise that there is a huge 60% of the uncommitted electorate for them to engage with, in order to wrest control from the Conservative party. And the conservative party would realise how disengaged the voting public really was.
But if these remaining unengaged voters vote randomly, the remaining 60% of votes gets distributed evenly between the Conservatives, Labour, and the smaller political parties. Thus we might get a total vote of 40% for Conservatives, 30% for Labour, and 30% for other parties. This gives an inaccurate picture of 40% support for Conservatives, when in fact only 20% of the electorate actually support them. More significantly, if support for the Conservative party was to drop by 10%, it would appear as if there was still 30% support for the Conservatives, rather than a more significant halving of their actual support.
This makes it difficult for parties to accurately gauge the popular impact of their policies. The amount of noise contributed by non-engaged voters dilutes the swing patterns of actual electoral support. It also motivates political parties to only engage with the minority whom they believe will swing the vote, rather than appealing to the full electorate.
Such distortions are unfortunately rife in the UK’s political landscape. It allows the large political parties to remain entrenched in power, and contributes to political disengagement amongst the voters, who feel as if their vote makes no difference to the political establishment or their own lives.
So I now urge my fellow voters: If you are unsure who to vote for, please do NOT vote.