Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Choice and turnout

George Monbiot has an interesting piece in the Guardian today, arguing that working class people haven't turned to the right - they just don't vote:

The real issue is surely turnout. In the US it has been low for a long time: between 50% and 60% for presidential elections and 30% to 45% for mid-term congressionals since the second world war. In the UK it has slipped dramatically, from 84% in 1950 to 65% in 2010. An analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that the collapse has occurred largely among younger and poorer people. "Older people and richer or better educated people … are now much more influential at the ballot box".

The major reason, the institute says, is the "'low-stakes' character of recent elections": the major parties "fought on quite similar platforms". The biggest decline in recent political history – from 1997 to 2001 – lends weight to this contention. In 1997 the young and the poor believed they faced a real political and economic choice. By 2001, Blair had moved Labour so far to the right that there was scarcely a choice to be made.

This is obviously US- and UK-centric, but we can ask the same question here. And the data seems to support Monbiot's thesis. Labour - which is supposed to represent ordinary people - offers essentially the same economic policies as National. Oh, there's some minor differences over asset sales and the fringes of employment law, but the core of flexible labour markets, independent monetary policy, free trade, and low taxes on the rich remains. Next election, we will be offered a "choice" between a party we suspect will fuck us over on superannuation, and one which has promised that it will. Some "choice".

Meanwhile, turnout has dropped, from 88.3% in 1996, to 74.2% in 2011. At the same time, the New Zealand Election Study shows a definite shift in who non-voters would have voted for. In 1993, those identifying with a major party were split evenly between National and Labour. In 1996, National was ahead. And since then, Labour non-voters have dominated, making up 32.2% in 1999, 40.2% in 2002, 42% in 2005, and 44.8% in 2008 (the results of the 2011 survey are still being processed). This pattern is not replicated across other left-wing parties, so the problem is not one of the wider left. Those giving up on voting and political engagement are self-identified Labour voters.

(MMP gives voters other choices as well, and looking at the trend in the Green vote over the last few elections, Labour voters who want real change are gradually taking it).

If Labour wants to halt this trend, it needs to offer a real choice, something better than the status quo with different managers. It remains to be seen whether its actually interested in doing so.