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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't vote

Over the last week the papers have been peppered with stories about the low voter turnout in the October 14th General Election:

Ottawa Citizen: Canadian electorate stays home in droves

The (St. John's) Telegram: The big no show

London Free Press: 'Obama effect' cited for voter apathy here

CBC: Voter turnout drops to record low

National Post: Our voter turnout blunder

Voter turnout was low - though it's not quite as bad as people are making out.  If we look at voter participation as a percentage of the overall population, you'll see that voter turnout was pretty much stable between 1972 and 2006.  This year it dipped, but only down to "Trudeaumania" levels:

Election year Official turnout Turnout as a % of the population
1968 75.7% 41.1%
1972 76.7% 46.2%
1974 71.0% 44.8%
1979 75.7% 50.2%
1980 69.3% 47.9%
1984 75.3% 51.9%
1988 75.3% 52.5%
1993 69.6% 50.8%
1997 67.0% 48.3%
2000 64.1% 45.1%
2004 60.9% 45.2%
2006 64.7% 47.2%
2008 59.1% 41.9%

Look at the numbers, this is hardly a situation that demands radical solutions - but of course that doesn't stop the press and the academy from proposing them.  The most common solution to this made up problem is compulsory voting.  This is practiced in Australia and Belgium.  It would mean giving Elections Canada the power to use force to herd disinterested voters into the nearest polling station. 

It's shallow thinking.  I've never heard a proponent of mandatory voting also call for a prohibition on spoiled ballots.  And what is the practical difference in outcomes between spoiling your ballot and not showing up?  No miracle happens when you vote.  If I'm forced into the polling booth, it doesn't mean I become an engaged citizen, it means I'm afraid of the cops.

There's an expression that goes along with this demand that people vote: "It doesn't matter who you vote for, just vote". In this video, CATO Institute fellow, Penn Jillette rants about the stupidity of that expression and about "voting against" parties.

Voting against people is the overriding theme of our elections too.  Listen to any of the opposition leaders this week and you'll hear them crowing about their take of the popular vote - claiming that two thirds of Canadians voted against the Conservatives, or that a vote for them was a vote to "stop Harper".   The numbers don't really say that though, do they?  See, if the ballot question is "do you want to stop Harper?" - then not voting and saying "I don't care" is a valid answer.

40.9% of Canadians gave that answer in the last election, they shouldn't be shamed, and their choice certainly shouldn't be criminalized.

Posted by Robert Jago on October 19, 2008 in Canadian Politics | Permalink

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Comments

Robert,
Turnout is as percentage of population is meaningless, since it disregards changes in demographics.
The 1968 election took place just after the end of the post-war baby boom; at that time, a far higher percentage of the population had yet to reach voting age than is the case today. Unless you're prepared to argue that the political views of toddlers and infants are relevant, then your comparision between 1968 and today is either dishonest or just plain dumb.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-10-19 2:07:01 PM


Truewest,

"The 1968 election took place just after the end of the post-war baby boom; at that time, a far higher percentage of the population had yet to reach voting age than is the case today."

Ok. So please explain what happened after 1968 when those baby boomers began to vote in the first place, yet they are still alive and here we are again with normal rates.

In other words... The Boomers are the anomaly and Mr. Jago is correct. We are returning to PRE-boomer voting patterns (as with much of everything else) and there is no need for radical intervention.

Only the narcissistic generation could view this as abnormal.

Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2008-10-19 3:08:42 PM


Yes. % of Pop. is irrelevant. A significant % of eligible voters stayed home.

I do not agree that the reasons for this were necessarily 'apathy' or 'lack of engagement'. The socially conservative voters were left with no one they could stomach to vote for, unless they happened to be in a 'lucky' riding. None of the party platforms had anything to offer in terms of 'freedom' or 'basic human rights' (ie the right to life itself). It was somewhat stupid of the Prime Minister to further define his position on abortion as 'I don't care'and 'I will not allow'. It gained him nothing, and may have cost him a majority. He will not be able to get those voters back, although its clear he didn't think they were valuable anyway. The committed 'lifers' and their growing percentage of the population (their birth rate alone secures that!) will be looking for another route to justice in Canada. Without Life, nothing else matters - Harper doesn't get it, and he won't get their ( now three generations of) support.

Posted by: lwestin | 2008-10-19 3:21:08 PM


Low voter turnout is a sign of how well the current government is managing the country, encouraging or demanding people vote is a ridiculous anti-democratic idea. Many people are genuinely not interested in politics, they don't want to make the slightest effort to consider the issues, we are all better off if those people don't vote.

Posted by: philanthropist | 2008-10-19 6:38:58 PM


"Many people are genuinely not interested in politics," Philanthropist.

Phil,

People who are not interested in politics become slaves. Not only should we all be interested, but we should all be instructed in our own and other country's political history. I don't suggest this be done in public schools because only one side is presented there.

A rant:

As for the guy in the clip who continually stated he was not a big enough celebrity he's right, I never heard of him and he comes across as a fool with arms flailing about and his hair flopping everywhere. He is very poor with the use of language as well. How old is this guy and what's with the hair?

It took him 8 minutes and 45 seconds using words and video to say the following.

"Find whomever is closest to your political philosophy and vote. If there is no one you like then please don't bother to vote."

That only took me about 20 seconds to type. The message is fine, but in this case it's okay to shoot the messenger. (for the HRC f**ks, that was just a metaphor)

It's pretty sad when I feel I have talk to the government watchers about my comments. It's sad that they are even there in the first place. I guess they came about while everyone was busy not being interested in politics. How else did slip such oppression upon us without us even knowing it?

We must get rid of them and that's not a metaphor.

Posted by: John V | 2008-10-19 8:12:30 PM


It's pretty sad when I feel I have talk to the government watchers about my comments. It's sad that they are even there in the first place. I guess they came about while everyone was busy not being interested in politics. How else did slip such oppression upon us without us even knowing it?

We must get rid of them and that's not a metaphor.

Posted by: John V | 19-Oct-08 8:12:30 PM


You got that Right John V.
Changes are coming. You can feel it everywhere you go. At the gun club yesterday there were young couples picking out shotguns for home defense. One couple was looking at an AK.
That really surprised me. But I think its a sign of things to come. Maybe people are voting with their choices more so than a ballot. And maybe people are relying on themselves more, and the government less....I like that.

Posted by: JC | 2008-10-19 8:34:53 PM


Negative motivation, like mandatory voting never works as intended. I wrote to my MP suggesting that if encouraging voting was the goal, then give people a tax deductable receipt for a 'political contribution' when they drop the ballot in the box - $100 or $10 doesn't matter but it is a return to recognize the voter's attention to the campaign and (I hope) research into their candidates and party.

Posted by: Aviator | 2008-10-19 11:38:35 PM


People have the right not to vote. They should vote, but they don't have to, and I will not push them on it (after all, it makes my own vote count for all the more). That said, if you don't vote, you lose the right to complain about the government, because you could have helped shape it, and chose not to. People should have to apply for permission to stage public demonstrations, and before such permission is issued, should have to give proof that they voted in the last election.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-10-20 7:58:56 AM


Shane, I agree with your first two sentences.

Complaining is something most people do quite naturally, so those who do not vote will not stop complaining. So when you say they lose their right to complain when they don't vote, you mean in your opinion. That is fine if it ends there. However, if we are free to not vote, then our opinion matter no less.

If you say your vote counts all the more if some don't vote, why would you want more people voting? Especially if, I assume, many of them will not understand the issues as well as you?

Your last sentence is very troubling. The real reason we defend free speach, in my opinion, is to protect us from the government limiting our speach. So if the government can limit it for such reasons as we didn't vote, we start down a dangerous path.

The system had MUCH bigger problems than voter turn out. Which really isn't even a problem.

Posted by: TM | 2008-10-20 8:40:59 AM


I am beginning to think that Canada should have voters register to vote months ahead of the election. If election dates were fixed then this would be easy. Not fixed dates, not so easy.

But it would give people time to have all their voting credentials in order before they vote and it would prevent voter confusion happening at the polls on election day.
I think it is complete horsecrap that voters don't know ahead of time what is required to vote.

That sort of thing leads to election fraud and has probably won the Crooked Liberal Party more close ridings than anything.

I mean Elections Canada should have banned the Liberals from running any candidates in the last 2 federal elections in Quebec because of Adscam.
To me Elections Canada is just as crooked as the Liberals, and why not - they are Liberals.

And I still can't believe Little Annie won her riding fair and square the last time she ran.

I am sure that senate elections would be more interesting and have more spark, especially if some rogue candidates did not have to follow any party lines.

Posted by: rockyt | 2008-10-20 8:57:37 AM


Drudge is reporting that California now has drive thru voting polls for this election.

No time to waste, no problem - just drive thru.

Posted by: rockyt | 2008-10-21 6:18:10 PM



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