Saturday, April 28, 2007

The voting rebate

Labour MP for South Swindon, and staunch party loyalist, Anne Snelgrove (right) yesterday talked about reasons for not voting and how to incentivise the young to vote. Some ideas were just about making voting easy, by text, email or online for example, but a more radical idea came out of her talk to Swindon's New College students: "offering people cash or money off their council tax bill".

When will these deluded politicians realise that it is not about ease of voting, it is not about being paid (though certainly for a reasonable fee most young people would vote), it is about feeling that voting is important enough to 'be bothered', 'make the effort' and gain the information to make an informed choice. Gone are the days when the majority of voters like herds of cattle would flock out and vote for their respective parties.

Unless the voter can have an impact (in marginal seats), feel the election is important (the government may change or a particular MP needs saving), and are engaged by the parties, they are not going to bother. So don't offer cheap incentives, change the electoral system, ensure the parties are significantly different, and communicate ideas as well as image, then we may actually see voters voting.


Mark said...

It's a shame you've decided to smother an interesting debate ("is paying people to vote ethical?") in a diatribe against politicians.

It's not "deluded" of someone to think that making voting easier will increase turnout - that's what the experience of all postal voting shows as does the Electoral Commission's own research.

Sure there are lots of other issues to (and plenty of drawbacks with all postal voting), but by just going for the easy insult aren't you imitating the very behaviour you love criticising in others?

Carl M Daniels (Phd student) said...

Providing the payment is simply to vote and not party sponosred then i'mnot sure if there is an ethical problem with this. I agree with Darren, in-depth research with non-voters suggests that the actual ease of voting is not the issue it is making voting seem an important act in itself.

Look at the evidence. Turnout is higher in marginal seats where the vote is important. Systems where the voting system does not make a large percentage of votes a waste sees turnout higher. Systems where there is a choice between ideolgoically opposed parties, and not where coalitions are the norm sees higher turnouts.

The gimmicks (from e-voting to different coloured ballot papers) have peripheral effects and may increase turnout once based on novelty but long term engagement iwth political contests demand changes of a more fundamental nature.

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Mark, not sure my post was what I would describe as a diatribe, but I would like to answer an important point you raise and build upon the useful response from Carl Daniels.

I have conducted a number of research projects, two specifically looking at voting behaviour and turnout. In safe seats, where there is little campaign, and perceptions of the parties are only offered by the media, there is comparatively low turnout. The non-voters here explain this not because it is difficult to get to a voting booth, or they want an incentive (though this may have an effect) but on the fact that they have no incentive to vote because any single vote does not matter, the parties appear far too similar and they feel unrepresented by their MP.

This is contrasted in the marginals where the incentive is often the strength of the local campaign and the fact that party policy is translated into locally deliverable promises that are specific to voters concerns and services within the community.

I do not think that calling Ms Snelgrove deluded was an easy insult, in fact I think that by making these suggestions politicians are ignoring the fundamental questions and blaming the voters. I was discussing these matters with researchers from the Electoral Commission at a conference recently, they are starting to agree that it is not just the voting method that needs overhauling, and a recent report followign the 2005 General Election reinforces these points.

Happy to chat further, if you are interested I can email you links or articles on this.

Sad you felt this a cheap shot and if that is the perception it was not intended. I do think that non-voting is a serious issue but one that needs a serious response and a serious debate in parliament including all the academic evidence on the phenomenon.

mark said...

Thanks for the long response. We obviously disagree a bit on the use of some vocabulary :-)

But on a more substantive point - the reason a safe seat is a safe seat is in part due to how parties decide how to behave. But it is also done to how voters decide to behave. This shared responsibility only rarely (if ever?) features in these sorts of discussions.

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Fair point, though it seems that in certain areas the idea of a seat being safe has dominated campaigning for so long that it is self-fulfilling. While if voters did change their voting, and the seat became less safe, they would get a better campaign and more local interaction and representation, it seems that the lack of that obvious representation instead encourages non-voting and so the seat is largely in the hands of the minority (40% at best) who feel it is their duty to vote or actually do feel sufficiently passionate to go out and vote.

What would be really interesting is if Ms Snelgrove's suggestion was put into action. If there was 80-90% turnout in order to get a council tax rebate, would there be all sorts of odd swings? Yes that is marginally a change of heart on that suggestion!

I do think though that parties have a duty to connect properly with citizens and that any reforms to encourage voting should tackle every reason for non voting. It does annoy me when they offer a quick fix rather than tackling the root of the problem.

I also think a form of proportional representation that made votes matter (though keeping the MP-Constituency link) woudl improve voter's having an effect and so wanting to participate.

Yes, I could go on for hours and frequently do, just ask my students.

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