In the last few weeks, I suspect that we've probably all had quite a few of the same dinner party conversations. No one knows what is going to happen on Thursday. Few people are willing to predict a winner, or what the structure of any resulting government will look like. Or rather, they wouldn’t put anything large down on a bet on it.
Trust is a massive issue facing all parties involved, and neither of the main party leaders are particularly inspiring for people. There is too much information out there and it just seems biased and contradictory. Many confess to not knowing who to vote for themselves.
So it isn’t surprising at all to realise that one of the many unknowns is whether this year’s general election will have unprecedented turnout for the modern era – whether high or low – or will stay on trend with previous elections. I’ve seen news stories calling it all three ways. And this is the lynchpin: if we don’t know who is really going to vote, then it becomes a lot harder to predict the various outcomes for the election.
If you study the theory of how people vote, you come across some fun ideas and crazy maths that try to boil down voter behaviour to various variables. It can seem pretty basic, but gives us a place to start. Fundamentally, people vote if their participation matters and could tip an election, if there’s enough of a difference between the parties so that if one party won over another it would have benefit to the voter and if they believe that voting is their duty.
But they are less likely to vote if the cost of voting is too high for them. That includes things like taking time off work to vote, going out of your way, and doing things like learning about the parties, the candidates and the issues ahead of time.
That’s the clincher. We live in a moment when the majority of people think that there is too much biased and contradictory information out there to work out what’s real and isn’t. The lack of trust in the parties and the candidates make it less clear who to believe and who to vote for. And, at the end of the day, unless you are in a constituency that is marginally, does it really matter if you turn up on the day?
I’m one of those annoying 'If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain' pro-democracy loons who absolutely loves to vote. That said, I am personally on the fence on compulsory voting as frankly, I feel about voting like I do about religion. The freedom of religion includes the freedom to not have one. Same with voting. While Australia and the 22 other countries in the world with compulsory voting claim higher voter turnout rates, they can’t truly claim higher engagement rates. Indeed, while Australia has an official voter turnout of over 95 per cent, it is calculated to really be more likely in the low 80s after you remove spoiled ballots and those who fail to register. In our last General Election, we had about 65 per cent of voters go to the polls – but I’d like to think that the quality of their vote was better. They didn’t have to go, but they did.
At the end of the day, perhaps what we need is a better sense of civic engagement and a conversation about how our elections can, and should, serve the voters rather than the parties. Teach what happens when people don’t vote, show how important it is to participate in our communities and foster a greater sense of ownership over the government.
It won’t surprise you to know that on 7 May, I will be queueing up with my daughter to show her how important voting is. It might be her fifth birthday and she would probably prefer to take her new pink bike for a spin around the park, but if all else fails, this year she’s getting a lesson in civic duty along with her birthday breakfast. I don’t know how else to ensure that regardless of what nonsense the parties get up to in the next 13 years, that she will be there with bells on to vote the first time that she can.
Emily Hunt is a London-based strategy consultant, you can find her on Twitter @emilyinpublic.