British politics – analysing the reasons for low electoral participation

It is the role of the citizen in a democracy to cast there vote in order to choose a political party who will represent their ideas. Through the voting system a majority vote will allow the most popular party to be granted power but as recent figures show in 2001 and 2005, there has been a record low in voting since 1918. As women had helped largely support the country during the 1914 war effort, with help from Emmeline Pankhurst, this was rewarded in 1918 by the Representation of the People Act.

Which gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote, soon being followed by more reform in 1928 when voter age moved to 21 and equal voting rights meant that 97% of the population could legally vote. The difference in gender has no significance in today’s society, thus voter numbers should still be in vast percentage. As can be seen from appendix fig. 1, there has always been a fluctuation each year with stronger and weaker figures throughout the 20th century. Soon after the Second World War was the strongest point in fifty years, this was maybe due to loyalty from supports of the conservative party, who wanted to e-elect Winston Churchill.

The next peak was in February of 1974, this election failed to produce an overall majority for the winning party, which was followed in October by a less successful election. From the chart it can also be seen that a steady decline had occurred over the whole time frame and democracy needs to be replenished for change to happen in a fair country. It would be fair to say that the effectiveness of the right to vote has declined. Studies have attempted to explain that the first part the post method may be an unsatisfactory British voting system, which could discourage right thinking people to avoid having their say.

In reference to the British Politics in focus book Bentley says that the majority of voters in the four elected terms did not vote for the governing party. This happened in 1997 when labour only won 43. 3% of a vote but received a huge commons majority to retrieve power. Critics have argued that the British electoral system is at fault and is in need of change. (Bentley et al. (2006) This system can sometimes mean that there is too much of a margin between candidates, who already have a safe parliament seat and smaller party candidates not being able to get elected.

The country could run a test to try out a new voting system, for example, the supplementary vote. This could test if voters would be more comfortable choosing minority parties, knowing they have a realistic chance to win and is not a wasted opportunity. The participation of the public in politics is only minimal until the chance to vote, but now this is also in decline and the electorate has gained disinterest or been disfranchised. It can be argued that there are many theories why citizens do not turn up to exercise their given right to vote in a general election.

The first of many is written by Dearlove in the Introduction to British politics book, they say that one vote will not take affect in terms of final election result, and as people have to make a physical effort to go to the poll knowing their vote will not be crucial, when the benefit from voting is practically non-existent. Dearlove et al (2000). This could explain the logic of some of the public, as it is very time consuming and difficult to make it the poll whilst having a fast paced lifestyle. This could include long working hours, holidays away, or family care.

There is a possibility that if voting was made easier then more people would participate; for example, the electorate could have a secure online vote. According to the book by Axford 2002 in Politics, An Introduction: ”an individual’s motivation for voting are based upon the interplay of various factors such as social background, ideological and party identification and economic perceptions. ” He goes on to discuss that it is difficult to explain how individuals conceptualise themselves. (Axford et al 2002, 77)

The public s interests may not be the same as the power elite when they live in a different area, thus feel affected or unrepresented by the political parties with the highest chance of getting elected and decided voting will have no benefit. The influence of where a citizen lives could suggest that they may have different interests in economics, as the south of England has a higher housing rate from the North for instance. This leads to a voting pattern growing in how many people deem it a necessity to believe in what politicians are promising and there own circumstances not changing.

The growth of the town in which one lives can give you a motivation, but being in this area can also make a citizen feel disengaged with there constituency. A relationship exists between an individual’s personal opinions on what is right and wrong, so reject having an involvement politically as they believe it to be irrelevant to their own needs and aspirations to move forward in day to day life. If someone is happy in there life then they will not vote to reject change, in order to keep the same regular balance because it is more comfortable that way.

A citizen who has decided that they don’t know what is best for them or simply don’t know who to choose may have a Potential lack of political knowledge. This could be a factor which has derived from schooling or having never been told participation is important and no interest was undertaken. The Representation of People Act in 1969 stated that those 18 and over now had a freedom to vote. young adults are less interested in politics, Surveys conducted by Leach indicate: ”a survey of young people eligible to vote in elections for the first time found that they had a rather narrow view of politics, involving government. ‘ (Leach et al (2006) 79)

On average, young voters who have little particular interest in politician’s policies; tend not to take any interest on Election Day. As the up and coming future, education on citizenship should be important to give the young adults the standing to make political decisions. In the recent 2001 elections only 39% of 18-24 year olds voted and the percentage was lower in 2005. Only just being relieved of immaturity as a teenager, it is still socially unrequired in some areas to take into consideration the somewhat boring aspect of politics, as they are still developing there own lives into being an adult.

On the tutor2u. net (2009) website it states: comments have been passed that media over kill is a cause of falling turnout. At the general elections it is a particular period when voters take time to research into politics to place power in there own hands. This would allow them to express their own opinions, which is supposedly helped by the media to give a blanket of knowledge to have an unbiased final decision.

Although the mass of political rallies are turning people off the voting process. Referring back to appendix fig. , the most recent voting peak was in April 1992 when John Major beat Neil Kinnock to the post with help from the Sun news papers infamous headline. In the General Election when Neil Kinnock was leader of the Labour Party, on the Sun newspaper at the British library (2008) website it was printed: ”If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights. ” This would defiantly have an off-putting affect on people’s opinion and would be a key component in changing the attitudes of millions of voting readers.

The media are good at using the freedom of information to bring to light all the wrongs and misdoings of MPs, this can represent a positive affect yet have a hard hitting negative outcome in the wrong context. In the aim of assessing the importance of low turnout, it is useful to find out if the interests of none voters differ from those of voters. In the book written by it explains that Voters are taking much more time and care over who they choose by weighing up the odds of a performance.

The policies of one party will be different from another but each has strengths and weaknesses in there agenda. (Cocker (1994). This means that the labour could have a better economy state where as the conservatives are better on welfare. A citizen, who is not sure which will benefit them the most, can be uncertain how to decide to act. A key factor of voting is to ensure that the most desired party are first past the post, therefore with a low voting percentage this could disrupt the outcome and give an undesired affect.

The main problem with low turnout is that it is not a fair election, creating a false picture of how the country wants to be governed. A political party with very little strength compared to one that consistently gets high votes will less likely have support at the polls, but through low turnout it allows shock results to occur even though in history it has been predictable. If for instance, loyalty weakens, this could be due to a lack of trust or a disengaged society.

The danger in low turnout can be reversed by re-establishing a belief in civil duty, educating or campaigning for greater involvement. The political party, giving a chance to change from the fatigue of life, and having a more suitable voting system which allows change. In nation wide politics minority interests are sidelined, as parties try to differentiate but need to act equally, they don’t have a broad enough appeal until there is a chance for change to occur. In the United States of America, low turnout was recently broken with presidential elections reaching a record high.

George Bush the previous President had become low in the opinion polls and if people feel displeasure or see the opportunity for greater good, it becomes more important. President Barack Obama was new hope for many Americans who required dramatic change. As can be seen from the BBC News world website (2009), see appendix fig 2. A majority of African American and Hispanic/Latino voters had a radical incline for the Democrats to enter the White House. Difficulties arise, however, in this argument as whether the votes were for the president or for the legitimacy of the system of government.

Everything lies with public having any confidence in who they are voting for. In conclusion, the findings show that there are a vast variety of reasons behind low voter turnout, the future of the voting system does not look encouraging. These findings further support the idea of a disengaged or disenfranchised electorate, who do not know the importance or do not have the ability to cast a fair vote in a democratic country. A voter may care about going to the poll but have no motivation or legitimate known reason to make the political decision.

Some factors which cause impact are the media creating public knowledge of scandal but manipulate of opinion by elites giving bias views. They can hide wrong doings when they are in favor of when backing the party, especially when near Election Day. The current state of a country and the opinion polls will usually give a pre-election idea of who is going to win before a vote is cast, the none voter will only be in a high percentage when dramatic change is required. Considerably more work will need to be done to determine why there is a decline in turnout.