Young people are not voting.
When he walks out of the graduation hall, he finds a pile of student loan debt papers waiting for him. So he takes up his laptop and sends out 70 applications for jobs, to which eight reply with an invitation for an interview. Luckily, he receives two offers, but the pay is barely sufficient for even the most modest lifestyle. He accepts one anyway.
He eats only one full meal a day, like in his college days. No money for a car or house, he lives from hand to mouth. After a few years, he still can’t afford to start a family. Irate, he reads the news to see if anyone is interested in solving his predicaments. No one. Politicians are just fighting among themselves.
Then one day he is asked whether he will vote. He stares in disbelief and mutters: No.
I understand this. But in this article, I will attempt to refute the three broad arguments for voting abstention: abstention as a form of protest; all candidates are horrible; and voting makes no difference. The problem with the main arguments for abstention is that they do not achieve their desired aims.
1. Abstention as a form of protest
First, abstention as a form of protest. The underlying justification here is that since there is thorough dissatisfaction with all the candidates on offer, abstaining from voting would translate that dissatisfaction into a protest.
As a result, the protest will encourage politics to clean itself of the mess, offer better candidates, and then the disgruntled voters will start voting again.
However, the assumption behind this argument deserves reconsideration. The argument assumes that abstention does register as a form of protest and that the protest is visible to those in power.
This view is misguided, because the ones who abstain from voting as a form of protest cannot be differentiated from those who have other reasons for not voting.
In other words, people who choose not to vote as a form of protest are mixed into a bundle of non-voters with other reasons, such as voters who choose not to vote because they are lazy, forgetful, out of touch, apathetic, indifferent, and many more.
Our voting system does not have a “none of the above” option on the ballot paper, and thus abstention will not send out a message of protest.
In comparison, a street protest is effective because its message is clearer and its strength lies in its mass physical presence, which voting abstention lacks. Abstention is ineffective; it does not achieve the aim it desires.
Furthermore, the party that wins the election will govern as though the ones who abstained were non-existent. The system will carry on without them.
Abstention will not reduce the legitimacy of the winning party since the winning party will always base their legitimacy on those who voted for them, and not those who abstained.
Abstention as protest is futile.