Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Who are the margins that decide Elections?

An article in the Herald a few days ago had some good insight into the voters who will decide the outcome of the election on November 24.

Mark Davis starts off by saying "If you are reading this article, then..."
a) you are interested in politics
b) you care about the outcome of this year's federal election; and
c) you will have little impact on the outcome...

...because, of course, the outcome will be decided by those who don't know and don't care.

Davis then reports on and analyses some research by Professor Russell Dalton: the Australian Electoral Study.

Voters are divided into four categories:
- Ritual Partisans - identify with one of the two major parties, but doesn't follow politics;
- Cognitive Partisans - identify with one side, and follows politics;
- Disengaged apartisans - no strong affiliation and don't follow politics;
- Engaged apartisans - no strong affiliation and follow politics.

In 1967, most voters were partisan but didn't follow politics. The figures for the above groupings were, respectively: 78%, 17%, 1%, 4%. Hardly anyone was fully disengaged, but few paid attention.

By 2004, there was a substantial change, and far fewer people were fully committed to one side. The respective figures were: 50.5%, 26%, 17%, 6.5%. On the plus side, 32.5% were now engaged, versus 21% in 1967.

In conclusion, electoral volatility had increased from 5% to 23.5%. The downside of this is that a larger number of people will now be swaying in the breeze, susceptible to the most venal electoral bribes.

Anecdotally, I do see a much greater number of people are now saying "what's in it for me?" in formulating their vote. Guaranteed sub-optimal outcomes.

Ideally our political system would encourage people to pay attention to the issues, rather than vote on the basis of who had made the biggest scare campaign, gaffe, or bribe. A tough challenge.

I had advocated Australia's compulsory voting system on the basis that it obliged a larger number of people to [vote and thus] pay attention to political issues, issues that affect their future. Now I'm less sure. Compulsory voting is great for conferring strong legitimacy on the outcome, but it also forces a vote on people who don't really want one, and won't pay attention anyway.

A challenge for which I have no ready answer.

The original article is here, and definitely worth a read.

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