Not Voting Is Completely OK

Only some semblance of credibility keeps us from dusting off and rerunning our “youth vote” feature from three years previous. Fortunately – for me but less so for democracy – the question only grows more relevant every cycle.

In 2008, only about half of all eligible voters under 30 voted. In 2011, that number dropped to about 40 percent of the 720,000-odd under 30s who could have voted – meaning 432,000 votes went begging.

Source: Power Play with Craig McCulloch at Radio NZ

As I’ve written before, not voting in an election is completely OK. Not participating in a system or being able to participate at the level you think you should be able to doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to criticise it!

The mental back-flips people must perform to get to that position are interesting – do they think that women (who couldn’t vote for a very long time) or blacks in the US (who couldn’t vote for a very long time and still disproportionately suffer from things like voter ID laws), by virtue of not being able to vote, had no right at all to criticise the system they were living in?

A lot of young people are naive, idealistic and stupid. They think that their opinion matters, they think they understand how power is distributed in a capitalist society and they think that their policy ideas should take preference over those held by the rest of the (older) electorate. They could be completely right, but that doesn’t change reality.

We have to live in the real world – voting won’t change anything, the likelihood of your vote changing the outcome of an election is negligible and there are smarter ways to ensure that policies you want end up being the policies implemented by Parliament and the public service.

If you disagree with me, again, why are the people who lean left and are driving these “get out the vote” campaigns, simultaneously able to criticise the impact lobbyists have on policy but offer up voting as a solution for getting policies they want implemented?

The answer for young people is closer to “bankroll a major lobbying effort that puts campaign cash towards MPs or parties who prefer young people’s policy preferences”. But that idea would be too effective and rational, so it won’t happen. Getting things done in the policy arena could also reduce the opportunity for some political entrepreneurs to earn rents from the “disenfranchised youth” story.

Considering what some genuinely disenfranchised groups have done to ensure a seat at the table, this generation is a complete and utter joke – lusting for power without having the gumption to do anything credible to actually achieve it. The bigger joke is that a lot of the criticisms from older people are scarily accurate.