Why Don’t People Vote?

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Election Ballot Box Vote

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Considering that democracy is often held up as the beacon of a truly civilized society, it’s somewhat strange that the political system is demonized. After all, politicians are often dismissed as a group of liars who will never live up to their promises, spinning tales, putting priorities at the forefront of lawmaking that have little bearing on the average citizen. Politicians, so the saying goes, aren’t to be trusted.

It’s a very strange attitude considering the fact that politicians are the very representatives of democracy. If we truly want to uphold the democratic process that we hold so dear, should we not have a better respect for the people who enter into these institutions?

The above is questionable, not helped by more than a few dodgy politicians always around making it seem like doubt is a sensible way of responding to those who seek power. However, it’s an example of one of the primary reasons given when people are asked to justify why they don’t vote. Why vote, so the line of thinking goes, when they’re all the same – and can’t be trusted anyway?

Political Apathy: Classless, Ageless, Raceless

It doesn’t matter which section of society you study, they all have the same uniting factor: they don’t vote. Turnout figures across the world are incredibly low when you consider voting is the very instrument of democracy, something we are brought up to be proud of, see fit to defend.

Looking at the cold hard facts is sometimes all you can do to see a consistent pattern. In the recent USA Presidential race, only 60% of the eligible electorate voted. Considering that was one of the most talked about Presidential races of all time, it seems surprising that 40% of voters decided to stay at home.

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This isn’t just a USA problem, either. In the UK, the Brexit referendum in June of 2016 may have garnered a respectable 72% turnout, but the General Election the year before only scraped to 61%, down from a historic high of 83% for the first post-war election. The French Presidential election of 2017 looks to be on its way to a historically low turnout, while the last elections in Canada may have produced the biggest turnout in 20 years… but it was still only 68%. Sweden, with its massively-engaged populace and 85% turnout in 2014, is more the exception than the rule.

So this is a truly worldwide problem – but what are the reasons for it, aside from the aforementioned feeling that people can’t trust the politicians? By identifying the causes of the ills, anyone with an interest in increasing engagement in the voting process can begin to see how to mend the significant rifts across the world. Maybe some of these will even sound familiar to you. That’s without going as far as the Australians, who have made voting compulsory and hold elections on a weekend to make sure

1. Want To Vote; Can’t Vote

In some countries, sections of the populace may want to vote, but they can’t due to immigration status. Most developed countries require you to be a full citizen of that country to vote. Even if you have permanent leave to remain and have been living there for years, without citizenship, you can’t vote.

It seems bizarre that citizens who are required to pay tax are not allowed to have a say in how that money is spent. But as you learn about naturalization, it can be a viable route to being more grounded in a country anyone with immigrant status now calls home. If this applies to you or anyone you know, it’s as good a reason as any to look into changing your status.

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2. The Feeling That “One Vote Doesn’t Matter”

This is an overriding sentiment for those who don’t vote; that their singular vote won’t make a difference. This is particularly the case if, for example, a Democrat wishes to vote in Texas – a state that, with the best will in the world, is never going to return anything but a Republican as its President. If you’re in a “safe” seat, then it feels like your vote doesn’t matter.

There is an element of truth to this, too – no single voter can make a difference. However, it’s through small increments against the incumbent that a movement is formed. A better way of putting it is that not voting is actually a vote for the sitting party/politician. Even if you just vote for protest reasons, it’s a real protest that will be noticed if you take that vote from the sitting representative.

3. Lack Of Political Engagement

For those with an interest in politics, the idea that someone isn’t politically engaged can seem strange. Given that our entire world depends on the decisions of politicians, how can people not pay attention?

Well, maybe they have better things to think about, immediate problems in their own lives. Maybe it bores them; maybe they don’t see the link between their basic life and what politicians discuss.

There is no way to force people to become more politically engaged. If you are passionate about politics, then you can try and introduce them to it, but some people just aren’t interested. There are no easy solutions here, though pressing the nature of democracy requiring a vote is a good first step.

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4. Lack Of Time

Finally, lack of time. Some people don’t vote as they don’t have the time to learn all they would prefer to about a candidate. Or, they literally don’t have the time (or ability) to get to a polling station on the big day.

Changes have been made to voting in recent years that make the need for one day, one vote, a thing of the past. Early voting is now available in many countries, via forms such as postal voting. Hopefully, as these become more well known, this is one reason that can fade into history – bringing turnouts up as a result.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.