Sep 5, 2013

In defense of undecided voters

I'm getting a little tired of the criticism being dished out against undecided voters.

We live in a democracy.  We have compulsory voting in Australia, which ensures a level of political engagement across the board and guards against governments that don't represent the will of the people being voted in on a 30% voter turnout, like some other great democracies we could mention (*cough* America! *cough*).

Disengaged voters

Some people are not interested in politics, or believe the two major parties are "the same" or "both as bad as each other". Some people cast their vote based on who their spouse/family/friends vote for (or who they think those people are voting for), or on tangential things such as the way a leader styles their hair, or whether the leader is a woman, or who has a nicer smile, or whatever.   There are a fair number of those people, but I don't think they make up the majority of the electorate.  I don't believe these voters make up a big enough block to worry about (mostly), because many of them will vote informal**, and others will cancel each other out, as they exist across the political spectrum.


**Edit: I just realized this picture makes it look like I'm calling disengaged voters donkeys. It's meant to go with the last sentence about voting informal - the "donkey vote" (voting informal / donkey vote = spoiling your vote paper)

"Rusted On" voters

Some people are "rusted on". These are the most utterly committed, who see every election as critical and wouldn't change their vote no matter what was thrown at them. These are the most strident, opinionated voices, some of them sensing conspiracy in every news comment or poll result, and disaster and the collapse of society/the economy/human decency/the world should the other side win.  These are the ones who will say things like "I could never vote x", and they mean it. There are a lot of these people (especially on Twitter...) but again they are not the majority.


(Mostly) Committed voters

The majority of people (probably) are in general committed to one party, and will mostly vote that way. You most likely belong to this group. If you think about your personal ideals and beliefs around how work, the economy, social issues and to what degree government should fund health, education, infrastructure, opportunity, growth, investment and welfare, you can most likely work out pretty easily which way you lean.

Some of these people will vote differently in some elections, or may be "undecided" during part of the campaign, if things are different / better / worse than usual, or if, just to chuck out a hypothetical here, one party has been riven by infighting and destabilization and seems to be tossing out new contradictory policies every which way rather desperately, and the other party seems inadequate or ill-prepared, or the leader seems a bit embarrassing. You know, hypothetically speaking.

Swinging voters

Some people are truly "swinging voters", and it is often said disparagingly of these voters that they are self-interested and vote according to what will benefit them. As Lee Iacocca said of his family in his autobiography, "When we were poor we voted Democrat and when we were rich we voted Republican."
Here's the thing: there's actually nothing wrong with that. It's kind of how elections and democracies are built to work. No matter how fervently you believe you vote for the good of the country, there is some level of self-interest in the way you vote. YES THERE IS.

Political belief and self interest 

Think about it - really think about it. Where do you stand on welfare, industrial relations, infrastructure, health services, education, the environment, taxation, education, business, growth, social mobility?  OK. Now... what is your job? What do you want to do? How do you want to live? Do you have kids? How are your finances? What are your kids doing or what are you hoping for them?

It's entirely natural for your aspirations and circumstances, as well as your personal philosophies, to inform the way you vote.

I like to think I vote out of what I think the country needs at this time - "the greater good". But it's funny how often what I think is best for the country tends to correspond with what will be (mostly) better for me, or for what I aspire to, for me or my kids.  Analyzing my beliefs and my decisions I can admit I vote where I think the country needs to go which is also where I WANT the country to go, to fit my own ideals or goals.

Undecided voters and swinging voters make democracy work!

Yes they do! If everyone voted the same way forever there would be fewer changes of government, and no new policies ever.  Politicians would only target the youth vote to get all the new voters, and my god, imagine the consequences of that.

If no one was ever undecided or changed their vote, we would never get new leaders, or stirring oratory or debates or costings or any of it. Polls would be simpler, and so would the taxation system, but our whole economy would lose momentum and business would either eat us all (Liberal) or wither and die (Labor), and life would get horrible fast.

I'm not a swinging voter - not really. I've called myself that in the past, but I mostly vote the same way. Except sometimes, when I don't.

During this election campaign, I have been undecided (I'm not anymore).   I have not been undecided because I was disengaged, ignorant, selfish or stupid. At no point did I consider passing an informal vote.

I believe certain things and I believe this election and this campaign to be difficult. I also don't think you always vote in line with your core beliefs. That may sound weird or silly, but I think there are times when you feel things need to go a certain way and that's not a vote for forever; it's a vote for the next three years.

So there you are - you can probably work out which way I'm going to vote.

What do you think? Which kind of voter are you? Do you hate undecided voters? Have you ever changed your political leanings?


  1. I fall somewhere between rusted on and mostly committed. This year I have had difficulties. I believe we have an obligation not only to Oz, but to the world. And on the asylum seeker/foreign aid issue I believe our major parties have been in a race to the bottom. A fairly equal race.
    I voted yesterday. Very carefully. With a lot of consideration for where my preferences will go. And now I wait.

    1. This year has been hard. The asylum seeker issue has been big for me too. The whole thing is appalling.

  2. I only recently learned of Australia's required voting system. It sounds like it works for you, our system in the "Cough USA Cough"works pretty well for us. I can not imagine being forced to vote, sort of goes against freedom to me. Most of out "No" votes are actually "none of the above" votes, or non votes from completely apathetic citizens. Anyway, our system is not perfect, but it works pretty well. If we were required to vote even those who regularly voted would stay away in droves regardless of the penalty just to make a point. Most Americans do not like being told to do stuff.

    Interesting concept though!

    1. No system is perfect. And yeah, I can't imagine compulsory voting going down well in the US! Even here there are a fair few people who object to compulsory voting in principle, and some do refuse to vote and pay the fine. Others vote "informal" (spoil their vote), but overall I think it works quite well.

  3. Thank you, you've helped me quite a bit. Usually I'm between mostly committed and swinging, this year I've been undecided for the whole of the campaign. i mentioned on several people's blogs lately that I'll probably just pay the fine and not vote, but of course I won't do that. I do know one candidate that I will definitely vote for, so that's half the problem solved, for the rest, I'll search the papers for names I recognise as having done good for their party in the past. That should give me a clue or two.
    Of course, like you said I have my own interests at heart as well as issues I believe need attention, they've changed quite a bit since I was younger with small kids at home and this is part of my problem. Families with young children still need a government that will look after education and health as they always have, but now I need to think about issues concerning aging too, not to mention the good of the country as a whole.

    1. Exactly.
      And yet another intelligent, engaged and thoughtful undecided voter.
      It's been a shocking 3-year-plus election campaign we've endured here!

      Good luck everyone with your candidate of choice tomorrow.



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