Hello? (hello) (hello)
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?
Only 46% of eligible voters actually voted in the last election. The average MHK has only 14% of possible support. That raises the question of the democratic legitimacy of our representatives (see my blog ‘the Mandate Myth’) but also why people don’t vote?
Whenever voter turnout is reported in the local media you can be sure it is put down to voter apathy. I think that is a convenient explanation for Tynwald but one that does not survive even a modest level of scrutiny. It’s a bit like blaming your customers for not buying your product.
Apathy implies a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Now I have yet to meet anyone that has no interest or concern for anything. People do care about many issues particularly those that directly affect them. The same media that explains away low voter turnout as voter apathy is filling its pages and airwaves with stories on education, housing, healthcare, cost transport, childcare, cost of living etc presumably because they think they will interest people.
Research in the UK found that amongst the supposedly most apathetic – those who do not vote in general elections – 37% were members of, or active in, a charity, community group, public body or campaigning organisation. Hardly symptomatic of apathy.
So why is a population that is active in many political and non-political areas so unwilling to participate in the institutions and processes of formal representative democracy?
The explanation is much more worrying than apathy. People have lost faith in our political system and because it’s difficult to change from outside the system, people have disengaged. Attitudes to institutions are no longer defined by left and right, but by a political realignment around those who have ‘faith in the system’ and those who don’t.
Indeed, people feel there is little or no point in voting because it doesn’t make any difference. That's because the political system is designed to further concentrate power away from the people. Such mechanisms include:
So there’s no mystery in low voter turnout. It’s an entirely predictable result of a system that has become more important than the people it is meant to serve. Just like companies that put themselves ahead of their customers, so too are political systems that treat the electorate with contempt doomed to fail.