Monday, 15 March 2010

Could not voting be rational behaviour?


As you all know I’ve talked quite a lot about the question of non-participation in our lovely political system. Indeed, I have praised the good idiots who will get on with their lives unhindered and unembarrassed by not having voted. I’ve also argued that the coming election will see turnout fall still further from the levels of 2001 and 2005.

So it was with some delight that I stumbled across (or rather that Bastard Old Holborn stumbled across to be fair) this programme from BBC Scotland. Is not voting a rational choice asks the programme:

"Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University's department of government says that, in certain circumstances, not voting may be the rational choice.

It may well be that, now that duty is in decline, people think rationally 'is it worthwhile voting?' And I suspect that for at least a part of the electorate that they calculate it's just not worth bothering.

Not least because in most constituencies, even in years when you get big shifts in public opinion and a big shift in the numbers of MPs, the majority of seats just don't change hands."

It seems to me that the rational argument for not voting extends even further than just not bothering in a safe seat. It must apply where the voter calculates that their vote will not – under whatever circumstances – achieve the change they desire. There is clearly a rational case for not voting if – as is believed by many electors – there is little difference between the parties. Why should somebody waste even 15 minutes of their time voting when the outcome will be the same regardless of that vote? And this applies whether the voter’s expected outcome is positive, negative or neutral.

The only rational case for voting is where the effect of the vote has the prospect of either securing or preventing change. Where someone expects everything or nothing to change as a result of putting a cross in a box, there is little point in toddling down to the village hall or school. Now, since my MP is (much of the time) a rare voice of sanity in a world of robot-like apparatchiks, I will be voting to prevent change (i.e. to keep him there).


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