This month, the British people will make an important decision on its relationship with the European Union. Do we stay in or do we leave? While many have decided in the closing weeks up to the vote, many are undecided. Some have expressed that they will not bother to vote at all. Voter apathy is a big problem for the political process and one that politicians have tried to challenge.
Not Voting Undermines Democracy
The Conservative Party won a slender majority in 2015. The voter turnout was 66.9% and the winning party claimed just 36.9% of the popular votes. 45.6 million people were eligible to vote; this means that 15.9 million were able to vote but did not. Regardless of personal feelings about the parties or their leaders, that is a significant portion of people that may have influenced the vote and chose not to. A similar low turnout at the upcoming referendum could lead to accusations from the losing side that the result lacked conviction.
Without Voting, Nothing Will Change
Most of us at least understand the frustration that there is little difference between the modern parties. We also understand the complaint that nothing ever changes. As the statistics demonstrate above, nothing will change if we are not prepared to exercise our right to be heard. According to a world poll, the UK ranked 76 in the list of voter turnout, one of the lowest in the developed world. In Australia, voting is compulsory.
Because We Have the Right to Vote
The argument may go that having the right to vote always means the right to abstain, but this ignores the sacrifices made by previous generations. We need only look as far as the Suffragettes and the rights of the common woman to have the vote to see how powerful a force it is in democracy. Yet Women’s Suffrage was not a stand-alone phenomenon. In the mid and late 19th century, workers across the country rioted against the governments of the day to extend voting rights to common men and women, not just to those with property.
Your Vote Really Does Count
It is a reasonable argument to suggest, especially if you live in a constituency that always returns an MP from the same party, that your vote won’t make a difference. If you support a party that hasn’t had an MP in your area for decades, you might wonder (understandably) just what the point is. We need to come back to that 66% voter turnout. Each constituency (with a few outlying exceptions) are between 65,000 and 100,000. If the turnout was equally 66.9% with each one, that’s roughly between 22,000 and 33,000 people not voting in the 2015 election. This number is large enough to swing any seat. In the upcoming EU referendum, every vote will count equally. The decision will be made by total numbers, not grouped by constituency.
It Effects Change
The changing political climate and the support for smaller parties such as The Green Party, United Kingdom Independence Party, Plaid Cymru, Scottish Nationalist Party and others means that the old system is slowly changing. Feeling passionately about the causes of up and coming parties saw a doubling of support for The Greens in 2015, a trebling for UKIP and most of Scotland turning to SNP for its Westminster MPs. This led to our referendum on the Alternative Vote system. Although we rejected it in favour of keeping First Past the Post, future realigning of political views could lead to a rethink on Proportional Representation.
Without Voting, Your Voice Won’t Be Heard
One vote may not change much, but collectively voters can have their voices heard. We have to wonder what the map of constituencies might look like had those 15.9 million people who did not vote in 2015 decided to vote for a smaller party or vote despite knowing (or thinking they knew) that their candidate did not have a chance. Things might not have changed, but it would have given a more accurate level of support for parties by numbers.