Ever since learning about compulsory voting during a PSHE lesson at school, I have always been really interested in the idea and whether it has any effect or not.
Obviously, it does increase turnout as we can see in Australia and Belgium that have over 90% turnout each election. But what do people think about compulsory voting? What do millennials think about compulsory voting? And from this, I wondered, could compulsory voting increase millennial political engagement?
I will be using data from The Millennial Dialogue to answer this question. Between 2014 and 2017, AudienceNet, in partnership with the Foundation for European Progressive Studies(FEPS), conducted a study across 22 countries around the globe exploring young people’s engagement with politics. 17 were asked about compulsory voting and I will be using data from an aggregate dataset of these 17 countries.
So what do millennials think?
In total, across these 17 countries, 40% said that voting should be compulsory and 50% said that voting should not be compulsory.
In 7 out of the 17 countries, the majority of respondents said that voting should be made compulsory. These countries were Australia, Bulgaria, France, Romania, South Africa, Senegal and Turkey. This map shows the answers by country (the majority of participants in countries in green said that voting should be compulsory, those in red said it should not be compulsory).
The main point of the Millennial dialogue was to see the participation and interest in politics of millennials and to gather the reasons behind their behaviour. Low interest in politics was identified and there were several key reasons found. This included lack of trust in politicians and feeling like they were not heard by politicians.
From my general observation, I formed an opinion on compulsory voting. My opinion was this; millennials don’t trust politicians and think that politicians don’t listen to them so in turn, millennials don’t participate in politics. This means that politicians won’t listen to millennials. But because politicians don’t listen to them, millennials don’t vote. This is a vicious cycle.
I thought compulsory voting would change this. Surely it would break this cycle. Politicians would have to listen to everyone, including millennials, as they were all voting. Therefore millennials would know they are going to be heard more and would vote or just participate more. Additionally, it would make politicians more trustworthy, as compulsory voting would make the government more legitimate and accountable. For example, if we take the Brexit referendum, 72% was a high turnout in comparison to our election turnouts since 1992, yet if we had a higher turnout it would have given greater legitimacy to the result. Even with the small difference between remain and leave, the government’s mandate to leave the EU would have been stronger. Compulsory voting would, therefore, increase trust in the government and would make their decisions more accountable to the whole public as the government has to take notice of all in the country, not just those who vote.
However after comparing the data of countries with compulsory voting and those without, it does not seem to be that millennials feel more heard when there is compulsory voting.
In the UK, 70% of millennials feel the views of young people are largely ignored by most politicians. Australia and Belgium, two countries with compulsory voting, have very similar results. In Australia, 67% felt that the views of young people are largely ignored by most politicians and in Belgium, this number was 66%.
Just look at these facts:
• In the UK, 21% felt confident that they and their peers could make themselves heard. 43% thought very few, if any, politicians encourage young people to get involved in politics.
• In Australia, 13% felt confident that they and their peers could make themselves heard. 50% thought very few, if any, politicians encourage young people to get involved in politics.
• In Belgium, 24% felt confident that they and their peers could make themselves heard. 56% thought very few, if any, politicians encourage young people to get involved in politics.
It seems that compulsory voting did not increase trust in politicians.
In all the top five reasons for not voting for all three countries, lack of trust in politicians was number one and ‘don’t think my vote would make a difference’ was either top three or four. In fact, in the reasons that would make millennials vote, the top two for both Belgium and Australia were ‘if my vote would make a difference’ and ‘if I trusted politicians more.’
So compulsory voting does not lead to millennials feeling more heard and they do not trust politicians more. Moreover, while those in countries with compulsory voting do vote more, the participation rates of other political activities are all similar.
• In the UK, 6% take part in political meetings and 9% take part in protests/demonstrations.
• In Australia, 5% take part in political meetings and 9% Take part in protests/demonstrations.
• In Belgium, 5% take part in political meetings and 10% Take part in protests/demonstrations.
It’s clear that my argument; that compulsory voting would increase millennial participation as they would feel more heard by politicians, could not have been more wrong!
Compulsory voting does not increase trust in politicians, it does not make millennials feel more heard and it does not lead to an increase in political participation outside of voting.
So the question remains, what would make millennials feel differently about all these things? The fact that a change in the electoral system does not lead to a change in views suggests that a change is not needed here. Perhaps it is those that are in the system that needs to change, not the system itself?
What do you think? What would make millennials feel more heard? What would make them trust politicians? And what would make them participate in politics more, outside of voting?