The voting paradox — do you follow your heart or your head?
I live in the UK where, if you’ve not been living under a rock, you may have noticed we have a little political confusion at the moment. On 23rd June 2016 ‘we’ (52% of those who voted in the referendum) voted to leave the EU.
From where I sit, this appears to be when everything started unravelling. Since the results were announced we’ve had one general election, two Prime Minister resignations and a total of three Prime Ministers in office.
The latest incumbent, Boris Johnson, has now called yet another general election. Clearly he learned nothing from watching the disastrous election campaign led by Theresa May — in which she not only failed to achieve the landslide victory she was hoping for, she actually managed to lose her majority. Maybe its an early Christmas present for the electorate since he was unable to wrap Brexit up quite as neatly as he’d planned!
It is a strange paradox that you can only influence the government by voting in elections, however, having voted in elections nobody seems to get the outcome they wanted.
Since I’ve been eligible to vote I have turned out diligently each year.
Well, I say turned out but in actual fact I postal vote — why bother trying to fit it into an already hectic day when you can just fill in a form and post it off a week or two before?
I have, however, voted at every opportunity I’ve been given. In the early stages, I’m not sure I fully understood what I was voting for but I took advantage of the information available to me and when in doubt, asked my parents. Bit by bit I began to read up more and developed my own views.
For some years now I’ve felt I could confidently cast my vote knowing I was backing the party I felt best represented my views within my constituency. As such, voting has been relatively straight forward. This time, I’m torn. The party I’ve voted for in the past now has a leader I do not wish to have represent the UK as Prime Minister. While I know where my ideals currently lie, the system in our country means that — in my constituency — there is little to no chance of them winning the seat.
This has raised the question — do I vote with my heart or my head?
Voting with the Heart
Voting with your heart, in my mind, would mean each voter simply votes for the party whose policies they most agree with. In an ideal world, each vote would be counted and there would be a completely fair and democratic way to represent everyone’s views within the government.
In reality, this is tricky. There is a good reason we have so many electoral systems in use across the globe. We haven’t quite cracked what the best one is.
Here in the UK we use the first-past-the-post system for general elections, however, this is by constituency rather than across the country as a whole.
According to the parliament.uk website: The House of Commons and local councils in England and Wales use the first-past-the-post system. The UK is divided into constituencies. Local authorities into wards. At a general or local election, voters put a cross (X) next to their preferred candidate on a ballot paper. Ballot papers are counted. The candidate with the most votes represents the constituency or ward.
This means that while you can vote for whichever party you most agree with the policies of, that vote will not necessarily increase their chance of getting more seats within parliament (and therefore votes to affect government policy).
Voting with the Head
While in theory everyone’s vote counts, in practice it’s not that simple. The system in the UK means that each constituency is represented by a seat in parliament. Across the country there are constituencies with what is known as ‘safe seats’ and ‘marginal seats’.
A ‘safe seat’ is defined as a parliamentary seat that is likely to be retained with a large majority in an election. The opposite of this would be a ‘marginal seat’ or ‘swing seat’ which is a constituency held with a small majority.
In both the safe and marginal seats there is often either one (safe seats) or two (swing seats) parties that hold the fight for votes. If, for example, you live within one of Labour’s safe seats then a vote for the Green Party will be unlikely to unseat the Labour candidate. Similarly, if you are in an area where the two main parties are the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party then a vote for Labour is not likely to change the result.
It can feel like your vote no longer counts since there is little to no chance it will help your candidate achieve a majority. This raises the question of whether we should vote emotionally or tactfully.
Should each vote represent our true beliefs or should it be a compromise based on what we believe the best short term outcome will be?
Decision time on 12 December 2019
All I have said above is true of any election, so why did I mention in the title that UK voters have a particularly tricky vote this December. Well, this is partly due to my own views on some of the current party leaders but it is also the electorate’s opportunity to voice their view on Brexit.
I do not believe that either of the major UK parties represents my views on either their general nor their Brexit policies. However, I also accept that there is little chance of either of the parties whose policies I do support winning the seat in my constituency. So my choice in the upcoming election is:
- Compromise my vote and support the party who most closely represents my ideals within my constituency.
- Use my vote to show my true views but, in effect, discount my vote.
- Cast a ‘protest vote’ (also known as a blank, null, spoiled, or “none of the above” vote).
- Don’t vote.
For me, options 3 and 4 hold no value so I will discount them here. While I understand what might motivate people to take these routes I believe it’s better to have your voice heard while you have the opportunity. After all, many people around the world are still fighting for a vote — those of us that do have one should make it count.
This presents a problem. If I believe that my vote should ‘count’ then surely that rules out option 2 as well. The most recent American election is a perfect example of the fact that the popular vote will not guarantee a party win. Does this mean that by voting for the party I most agree with politically I am essentially protest voting?
To make things more confusing this December we have more parties than ever looking to disrupt the voting. Not only do we have Labour, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats but also the Green Party, UKIP, the Brexit Party and many others. While this is a general election we can’t ignore the fact that it is also an opportunity for Britain to have another say on Brexit because the past few years has made it so much clearer. At least we don’t have Boris putting lies on the side of a bus yet…
I have a strong suspicion I’m not alone in this irresolution on how to vote in the upcoming election. If the news is anything to go by half our MPs are not sure which party they support! I will be watching each party’s election campaign with interest, all the while agonising on which way to vote. All I can say for sure at this stage is that I will be casting my vote in December in the hope we can find our way out of this mess. After all, every vote counts.
“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”