Monday, October 17, 2011

Does lower voter turnout always favour incumbents?

When Ontarians were called to the polls this month, fewer than half of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot and the incumbent Liberals were returned to power. Turnout dropped in both Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador as their governing parties were re-elected. So does lower turnout always favour the incumbent?

You can find out by reading the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

Anyone who reads this site must be a political junkie, and I imagine that 95% of my readership votes. Undoubtedly, you all share my disappointment when turnout is so low. We're all excited when election day comes, but to an increasing number of Canadians (and, apparently, a majority of Ontarians) the whole process is a big yawner.

This puts the Occupy protests in an odd context. The protestors claim to represent the 99% of people who are under the tutelage of the richest 1%. But throughout the weekend I couldn't help but think if the proportion of those 99 percenters who hadn't voted in the 2011 federal and Ontario elections had voted, they alone could have elected a government. An Occupy Party with 100% of that vote would have been swept to power.

Of course, things are never so simple, and I imagine that most of the 40% to 50% of people who haven't been voting are also the same people who are unlikely to attend a protest.

Two questions come to mind. Firstly, what do we need to do to increase voter turnout and, secondly, is that something we want to do?

Though Elections Ontario tried to make voting as easy as possible by having advance voting booths open for a good part of the campaign, turnout dropped. So it does not seem that making it easier to vote (i.e., via the Internet) is sure to increase turnout. The problem is increasing interest, and the political parties are partly to blame for that. Also to blame could be our school systems - I don't recall taking a civics class when I was in high school.

Mandatory voting is an option, and isn't as outlandish as it may sound. Australians have it, Andrew Coyne loves it, and Canadians already have to fill out a census form. That's mandatory, so why not voting?

But we all have a friend or family member who is woefully uninformed about politics. Is an uninformed voter worse than someone who doesn't vote at all?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but you can have it out in the comments.