Electoral apathy affects all of us

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You may not have noticed, busy student that you are, that local council and mayoral elections happened this week, so I’ll summarise them for you; good showing by Labour, bad losses for the coalition, BNP was annihilated, UKIP did surprisingly well, Boris got in for another term and no other city wants a mayoral system, those last two may be related.  Now these things are all interesting and will impact the political scene for quite some time, but I’m not here to discuss them, rather the most interesting part of this entire process is that all the above was decided by a turnout of less than a third of the eligible population.

The grand total turnout for local council elections was 32%, their lowest since 2000, and the figures are even more dire for the mayoral referendums, where smaller cities were asked if they wanted an elected mayor, with just 25% turning up to say a resounding “No, thanks”. Even in the London mayoral election where an open clash of personalities, leading to the strongest fought election ever for the post, could only bring up the turnout to 38%, compared with 45% for the much less interesting campaign between the same two conservative and labour candidates 4 years ago. All of this showcases the trend; people are currently uninterested, or apathetic towards the current political landscape.
It might have been expected that from this smaller parties, such as the Greens, Plaid Cymru, Respect or UKIP, all those choices with which to rebel against the mainstream parties, could expect good gains, but it simply never happened. UKIP was the only party to make significant headway and in total ‘Others’ lost 173 seats. Voters aren’t even fired up enough to vie for an alternative; a way to get back at our current ruling politicians instead despondency towards all was to be the rule of the day.
It is interesting how in times of anger at politicians the default response is not activism or bloody-mindedness but is usually translated into a much more dangerous disillusionment and apathy towards the entire political system.  There is at the moment however, unlike at other low turnout elections a lot to complain about. We’re back in recession, austerity is biting hard and there is still residual resentment towards the Liberal Democrats. So why have a significant amount of people this time simply stopped caring.
The roots of this current trend probably have their roots in the 2009 expenses scandal, which the establishment is still recovering from, add to this the somewhat unpopular coalition and the questions being asked about the governments relationship with Murdoch and you have a base for distrust, however it doesn’t seem to add up to the level that we have reached, I really cannot explain it.
It is vitally important for any democracy to have an active and voting populace. So what can be done to improve the turnout, other than to completely change the political landscape? Essentially there are two options, firstly it’s important that we modernise the voting system. It is a strange state of affairs where we can do internet banking but not internet voting, when people probably care about the security of the former. There are some tricky questions to ask about ISP’s access to the data but in this day and age having to plan and travel in order to vote is an unnecessary hassle. Secondly, and it’s a wonderfully unpopular one, is mandatory voting, that would at least get our turnout figures up, even if it’d be hated for every other reason.

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