The Voter Apathy Paradox

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The American academic Robert M. Hutchins once said that ‘The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush but will be a slow extinction from apathy and indifference’; this seems more prevalent today than ever before. The apathy of the British electorate is becoming an increasing threat and unwanted burden to the very notion of democracy, and at the centre of this problem (especially in the 21st century) is a fundamental paradox.

In an age where virtually everyone has the potential to sign on to a twitter account or social networking site and share with the world the agonising decision of what to eat for dinner or how early they have to get up for work, it is clear the majority want their opinions heard and acknowledged. But all the time people are considering what menial information to share around the globe they are ignoring the most important tool to truly be heard and make a difference, universal suffrage. It is almost inconceivable to think that someone who has the ability to create a facebook page to share endless information and join pointless groups would neglect the outlet of making their opinions heard which could realistically change the way they live their lives yet election after election there is a continuing disappointment in terms of voter turnout.

It is clear that the reason for low voter turnout can be attributed to political disillusionment among younger voters. The level of low voter turnout is steepest among younger voters and ethnic minorities. It is then clear that current political parties are not doing enough or they are approaching this issue in the wrong way which prevents any solution from being reached. There is a huge opportunity to secure votes and support from the younger generation as it is they who are using the internet and social networking sites the most.

But what realistically can be done to remedy such a bleak situation? While the younger generations and future electorate are absorbed in the online world of social networking, is it clear that a possible solution could present itself in the form of that?

On the most basic level, a solution to this predicament could be formulated by merely using internet sites such as facebook and twitter to make material on politics more available. This solution could take the form of information about the importance of politics and voting or on a more specific level material about political parties, manifestos and their possible implications, dates of elections and addresses of nearest polling booths.

However there are practical limitations for such a suggestion, who should mediate the relationship between the target audience (in this case the potential younger voters) and the information that is being presented in order to ensure there is no inherent bias, obviously there would have to be an independent body to distribute fair amounts of information for each political party. Another issue is that of who should write and compile this information, should it be the parties themselves that try to articulate their appeal to the youthful electorate or should it be done from the point of view of a more objective source?

While this may not provide the prerequisite to fully solve the problem of voter apathy among younger voters at least it would be a step in the right direction in attempting to engage younger populations with politics. If the information that is needed to generate interest is presented in the form that is engaging and attractive, it could potentially act as a catalyst to generate further involvement in the subject and hopefully combat the notion of political disillusionment.

Another possible way to incorporate the internet and politics to find a solution to voter apathy could be introducing new ways of actually voting, it is most likely that some potential voters are turned off by the political process due to the bureaucracy of voting such as registering and postal votes.

The statistics provided by a recent YouGov online survey has revealed the true merits of a marriage between the internet and politics and specifically the opportunity to vote online or via a mobile phone in coming general elections. A total of 35% of the people that were polled online expressed the view that they would be more likely to vote if they could do so online. This was followed by one in five more likely to vote if they could do so using their mobile phone via a text message or application.

It seems then that if the means to vote was made available using the internet, social networking sites or iphone applications then it would go some way to combating the general apathetic nature of the youthful electorate.

In conclusion, there is an obvious potential to engage future generations, the sheer scale in terms of the number of people that use twitter and facebook is a huge asset that needs to be utilised to ensure the continuation of a healthy democracy. It does however need to be done in the right way to ensure it is attractive and compelling enough to act as an incentive to generate further participation. It is the only conceivable way to ensure that the ones who can vote do vote.

Article by Sam Randell. Edited by Marc Geddes.