Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Apathy in Democracy, is the sky falling?

In the aftermath of the Provincial Election in British Columbia, there has been much discussion on the worst voter turnout in recorded history with roughly half of eligible voters taking the time to vote. There are those in the media and political theatre who suggest that this is evidence of a political crisis, that our democracy is broken and the entire system requires a drastic overhaul. Christ I think it is the entire thesis behind Elizabeth May’s new book, the idea that low voter turnout is proof of a failure of a democratic system. Perhaps my opinion is biased because I have voted in every single election that I have ever been eligible for. I never missed a single student’s council vote from high school to University. It was never something that my parents drilled into my head. They always voted, but they never preached to me the need to always vote. The reason that I vote every single chance I get is because I am affluent, I follow the issues that matter to me, and I want my opinion to count for something.

While I would undoubtedly be more satisfied if more of my countrymen participated in the democratic process, I am against mandatory voting. Most of the people that I know who don’t vote are that way because they don’t know the issues and don’t particularly care. They find politics boring, and would much rather vote for the next Canadian Idol than city council. People who don’t care about the issues and do not read party platforms are not people that I want to force to vote. They are just as likely to do what I did my senior year at University where I voted for the student’s council candidates with the coolest sounding names because I was too busy to read the platforms. Can you force people to educate themselves and learn the issues?

I don’t want to stereotype those who do not vote and hypothesize as to the motivation behind their apathy. I know people who don’t vote, I ask them why, and I encourage them to vote. I would be interested in reading demographic statistics of people who do not vote, and investigate the causes for their apathy. Personally I find the most outspoken and most involved people are often the angriest about the government and their own situation. Anger at the governing party failing you in some way shape or form is a powerful motivator to increase your interest in politics. I believe that the people who are apathetic are often NOT the people whom the government has failed. I would go so far as to present a hypothesis that low voter turnout suggests a degree of satisfaction that the marginally interested people have with their lives. It has been my experience that people who are pissed off want their voices heard or represented.

I would also say that in the example of this week’s election in BC, all of the leadership candidates sucked. I did not like any one of them, and I’m sure I was part of the majority. I considered it important that I vote because as an economist who believes that Karl Marx was the anti-Christ, it was important to me that the NDP lose. Others who might not see any measurable difference between the effects that the two main parties will have on their lives might not care which party wins. If you don’t care who wins because you are satisfied with your life and don’t expect a difference under either victory scenario, why miss the first period of the hockey game to stand in line to vote on your way home from work? I disagree with Elizabeth May that it represents a crisis and structural flaw in our democracy and infact just might represent that we’re actually doing pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. There is the old canard, (don't you love ducks), that if you "don't vote" you are apathetic, disillusioned or are uninformed on the issues. Here is my take on voting and not voting - perhaps those that don't exercise the right to vote are actually happy with their lives and the current government solutions to deal with issues. Citizens can complain, but if you don't vote you are part of the problem not the solution. Cheers Fern StAlbert