The General Election – having your say and addressing electoral inequality

PollingStationWalesUK

Elections are the primary way for us to express our reactions to the performance of the government. An election is a tool of communication between the representatives and us: the people they represent.

Apparently, voters get the government they deserve. This implies that active participation by the electorate on polling day will result in us getting a government which truly represents its people but most of us will argue that the current coalition government doesn’t match that assumption. Only 65.1% of the electorate voted in the 2010 general election and it’s fairly obvious that more people voting could have resulted in an entirely different outcome.

Our participation in elections is without doubt an important responsibility and a significant symbol of our democracy and participation in public affairs.

Marking your ‘X’ on the ballot paper may seem like a small thing to do, we can of course participate in politics and public services in many different ways and not just at election time. However, the right to vote (that people have fought and died for) symbolises democracy and fair culture and I believe it is our duty to ourselves to have our voices heard in this process.

The way that candidates campaign and communicate with us has drastically changed. Paid-for political advertising is banned on television and radio in the UK, so a typical election campaign (in my mind) consists of hopeful candidates knocking on doors and shaking hands while proudly wearing shiny coloured rosettes and covering our doormats in glossy literature telling me that “the other candidate wants to sell the NHS” or “vote for him and he will double your taxes”.

With the prevalence and availability of modern technology, social media and digital communications are at the heart of this year’s general election campaign.

As paying for adverts of TV is not allowed, candidates are allowed to pay for political adverts and videos online via social media, potentially reaching an audience of millions and Ofcom do not regulate what is posted on these platforms. This provides an opportunity for much broader and more authentic, genuine and honest conversations to take place between the candidates and the voters. Facebook even has its own checklist for political candidates to refer to when posting updates – but are they using this to its best potential?

The evolution of social platforms between 2010 and 2015

5 years ago, the political parties were newly launching themselves on Facebook, getting their party leaders online and ensuring they had some sort of ‘presence’. Now it’s 2015 and social media has evolved so much in the last 5 years and so has the way that we use it.

Local candidates and parties should by now be using social media as a platform to have genuine conversations and engage with people so their presence online feels authentic and less like they’re just using a new and trendy tool.

Politicians traditionally use their public facing profile to get their message across and inform the public what they’re promising to change if they get elected. Candidates are now also using the platform to ask people for their opinion.

Hidden audiences and the ability to influence

The number of likes on a political candidate’s Facebook page is irrelevant when Facebook’s mighty algorithm allows networking and linking interests together; friends of friends of friends are being influenced by what appears on their newsfeed.

Obviously, some audiences are much less responsive to this method of campaigning. Some people don’t use the internet at all for example: television news and printed newspapers are still the most important news sources for certain audiences.

The role of the social networking movement in increasing electoral participation is not as simple as it may seem and ‘getting it right’ is never an exact science. Browsing through some candidates Facebook and Twitter pages – I’m surprised to see that most updates only point out the flaws in the opposition’s policies the potential for positive campaigning and conversations could be missed!

Addressing electoral inequality

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have recently launched a report suggesting that voting should be compulsory for the first election after each person turns 18. They accurately report that ‘the working class and the young have less input into political decision-making processes‘ in comparison to older and more affluent groups of people and propose that forced participation may be the answer to this inequality.

The main issue with this is that you can’t force people to take an interest; you can’t force people to care about something if they don’t. Compulsory voting would be nothing more than an illusion of democracy – how can it be democratic if it’s forced? It can’t! If compulsory voting was introduced I can’t help but imagine a rise in the number of spoiled ballot papers or people being forced into voting for something with little information resulting in a system which is even less representative than it is now.

Surely it is also still important to monitor any disinterest and dissatisfaction. There are many very justifiable reasons for choosing not to vote; it could be that someone feels as if they’re not well enough informed, or that none of the candidates or parties accurately represent their views and some people are just not interested. It is important to monitor lack of activity at the polls and find out why this is happening instead of just forcing everyone to participate.

Principle #2 of the National Principles for Public Engagement is “Encourage and enable everyone affected to be involved, if they so choose.” Those last four words are central to the engagement process – giving people the option to be involved.

I will be voting in this General Election because I want to and it’s my choice to, as I mentioned earlier I feel that it is my duty to be involved but I respect and understand the views of those who don’t want to vote. No one should be forced into democracy – that would be a contradiction!

So, participating in elections is an important responsibility but our vote is not our only voice or is it our only opportunity to be involved in politics. Everyone has a right to be listened to and those in power need to listen to us, however we choose to be heard.

– Sarah

If you’re 16 or 17 years old – you may not be able to vote this time but you can still register. The National Assembly for Wales’ elections takes place in May 2016.

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2 thoughts on “The General Election – having your say and addressing electoral inequality

  1. Pingback: Customer Service, Waste and the GE2015 | weeklyblogclub

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