Posts Tagged ‘voters’

How individuals’ social characteristics impact the likelihood to waste a vote

Corinna Kroeber, Cal Le Gall and Sarah C. Dingler analyse the similarities and differences of voters who vote for a party or candidate unlikely to win an election. Studying voting behaviour in three European democracies with different majoritarian electoral systems, namely the United Kingdom, Germany and France, they show that the archetypical ‘ballot wasters’ are the young and men.

In the UK’s general election in 2015, 25% of voters heading to the polls made choices that had no direct impact on the election result. They voted for candidates who neither won, nor were close to winning the election (i.e. the first loser). This type of behaviour is not a peculiarity of majoritarian systems, since even in a country with a highly proportional electoral system such as the Netherlands, 1.5% of all votes were cast for parties unlikely to enter parliament in the 2017 election. Who goes through the effort of voting but does not support parties with a high chance of winning a seat? These voters miss a chance to influence election outcomes and hence determine which parties and politicians set the agenda for the next term. If certain societal groups characterised by age, education, income or gender are more or less likely to do this, existing inequalities in the political process might be reinforced.

To understand the commonalities and differences among citizens who vote ineffectively, we analysed how individual-level characteristics affect the propensity to waste a ballot in our recent article published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. By focusing on the attributes of voters, this study goes beyond existing research which concentrates on contextual factors. We argue that the voting motivation and the ability to correctly identify viable candidates might be shaped by these individual characteristics. In particular, gender, income and age should affect the chances of making tactically or expressively motivated choices and, in consequence, enhance the likelihood of someone voting ineffectively. Education might also impact the propensity to make false decisions about who is a viable contender.

Our research is based on survey data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) for six elections in three countries: the parliamentary elections in Britain in 2005 and 2015, the German parliamentary elections 2009 and 2013 (district votes), as well as the French parliamentary election in 2007 and the presidential election in 2012 (first rounds). This selection of cases is especially interesting as all elections under study are majoritarian in nature and provide a relatively easy context for voters to understand who has high or low chances of winning compared to proportional systems.

Figure 1: Marginal effects of education, income, gender and cohort (age) on the likelihood of wasting a vote in Germany, France and Great Britain

Note: 95% confidence intervals based on a logistic regression of social characteristics on the likelihood to waste a vote. See the authors’ full article for details.

The article presents two main findings: first, income and education only play a minor role. As Figure 1 shows, and contrary to our expectations, the level of formal education does not impact on the likelihood of voting ineffectively. This result also holds for political knowledge. Neither the more educated nor those with high levels of expertise of political processes are particularly unlikely to waste their votes. Individuals’ capacities to correctly asses the chances of candidates are hence not decisive for making their vote count in majoritarian elections. This is particularly surprising given that education is one of the most powerful explanations for turnout. Income also has only a limited influence on vote wasting and we do not find solid evidence supporting a relationship between financial resources and (in-)effective voting. Even though earlier studies found a link between income and protest, we cannot be certain that the described pattern holds beyond our sample.

The second remarkable result is that two groups stand out as the archetypical ‘ballot wasters’: the young and men. The effect of gender is especially strong and straightforward. Women are much less likely than men to waste their vote, in particular if they sincerely prefer a minor party. This insight points to support for small, extreme parties as an explanation for gender differences in (in-)effective voting. As these parties and candidates are less likely to win seats than ideologically moderate ones, men’s larger sympathy for them leads to higher likelihoods of wasting a ballot by voting for them. Gender differences in attitudes, policy preferences, and acceptance of extreme parties’ mode of communication thus tend to shape the chances of choosing to make a vote count or not.

In parallel, younger cohorts are less prone to directly influence election outcomes. By supporting parties like the Greens, they tend to express their identity through votes irrespective of their choice’s chances of winning. By this means, the young show their sincere support for smaller parties either to signal to the remainder of the electorate that these are viable choices in future elections or for expressive reasons without any tactical intentions.

Future research can build on this original work to study the motivation(s) to waste a vote more closely. Understanding the motivations that different individuals have when they decide to vote for unlikely winners matters because it has profound implications for the legitimacy of established players and their electoral strategies. Notably, it seems important to know whether these wasted ballots aim to influence future outcomes, whether they are rooted in disaffection toward available options or simply because individuals prefer unlikely winners.

__________________

Note: This article was first published on Democratic Audit. It draws on the authors’ recently published work in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. Featured image credit: Adapted from photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash.

About the Authors

Corinna Kroeber is a junior professor at the University of Greifswald studying the representation of women, citizens of immigrant origin, and ethnic minorities. The effects of electoral systems on different facets of representation are of particular interest for her research.

Cal Le Gall is a post-doc at UCLouvain in the ERC project entitled QualiDem. His research focusses on voting behaviour and public opinion; globalization and European integration.

Sarah C. Dingler is assistant professor at the University of Innsbruck. Her main areas of research include the analysis of political institutions on women’s representation and the role of women as political actors in legislatures and the executive.

Britain in one room: reflection on a focus group of undecided voters during GE2019

During the 2019 election campaign, the University of Manchester hosted a series of focus groups of then undecided voters, organised with The Times and Public First. Timothy J Oliver and Andy Westwood (University of Manchester) reflect on the experience of helping to run this event.

Understanding how voters are behaving is an ongoing struggle for many in our field – to which we can take qualitative and quantitative tools with equal vigour. Whilst all of us had seen plenty of polling data during the election campaign, and before, it is always sound practice to bring in qualitative evidence as well – to hear the voters give full flow to their views on the issues confronting the country, and to watch them respond to others do the same.

roadblock
‘Voters felt as though Brexit was a roadblock to discussing issues like health, crime, education, and social services.’ Photo: Hugh Kimura via a CC BY 2.0 licence

The event ‘Britain In One Room‘ had been inspired by a similar, albeit larger scale event, in the US, run by the New York Times called ‘America in One Room‘. Whilst the New York Times had high hopes that their project might find a ‘better way to disagree’, the British event was more focused on discovering what voters might agree or disagree about. To that end, in November 2019, we gathered 100 undecided voters on campus, and set about circulating them between different rooms, running different topics in each.

These voters were selected by a polling company, with subsets from four regions – London, the South, the Midlands and Wales, and the North. Scotland and Northern Ireland were excluded due to the different nature of the election campaigns being fought there. Demographically, we sought a broad balance of gender in each of the groups, and focused on selecting voters in the C1 and C2 categories, though there were still others from higher or lower sets. Politically, they were mixed by Remain and Leave in rough proportion to the result, and mostly had voted Conservative or Labour before, though all were now choosing between at least two, if not more, parties in the upcoming election.

In each room, there was a moderator – often a university academic – and a journalist from The Times, who would have space to ask some final questions. These included Times policy editor Oliver Wright, political editor Francis Elliott, and former deputy speaker of the House of Commons Natascha Engel. The topics set ranged from the inevitable discussion of Brexit, through the policies that voters had heard about, on to the question of Labour’s relationship with its Northern voters.

This was not, of course, a purely academic exercise – The Times had an interest in generating stories from it, which gave a different flavour to the procedure. A different form of output, aimed at a different audience, meant the journalists often asked what seemed to be simple questions – asking participants to raise their hands if they had changed their mind about how they would vote in a hypothetical second Brexit referendum, for example. This provided a clear background to their analysis, but also crystallised their views in a way that a more open-ended discussion might not – and by bookending it, provided a neat insight into perhaps some more surprising choices among the participants.

For the academics who took part, such as ourselves, this offered a fascinating layer of colour to the evidence already available to us on this election campaign. We knew, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn was deeply unpopular from the polling data – but in the groups that discussed the Labour Party, the depth of his unpopularity amongst these voters came to vivid life. We knew that voters were bored of Brexit – but, again, the colour added here was how angry many of them, from both sides of the referendum debate, were that the topic was still up for discussion. Voters felt as though Brexit was a roadblock to discussing issues like health, crime, education, and social services, that they felt badly needed attention they were being starved of by a Westminster hyper-fixated on an issue they thought would be settled by now. Many of them voiced concern that their communities were being neglected because Brexit was taking up so much air time, and that real issues confronting them – rising crime, lower quality public services, and so on – simply were not on the agenda for politicians as a result.

These voters clearly were frustrated, angry, and cynical – on the whole – about the course British politics had taken. Their trust in most politicians and the institutions of government was lower than it had been before the referendum, which in many cases had been a low starting point. Leave voters often expressed the notion that, given Britain hadn’t left the EU so long after the referendum, there was no point in them voting again. Remain voters often were simply weary of hearing about it, and just didn’t want to be reminded again.

But what united these voters was that they were also eager to engage again. All of them reflected that they knew very little about the Withdrawal Agreement but expressed a desire to learn about it, as well as a frustration it was not playing a bigger role in the campaign. Similar views were expressed on the future relationship with the EU, where voters wanted to know what different outcomes might mean for them, and the country at large, and felt neither politicians nor the media were effectively communicating on these issues.

We went into this event aware that voters were more cynical than before, frustrated and angry with politicians and events. But what we also found was that voters were eager for things to get better – for politicians to communicate with them directly and honestly, for the media and academia to discuss things like the Withdrawal Agreement. The layer of colour added bears hope for the future of British democracy in a way that headline figures about trust in politicians might not. Voters are eager to regain trust in their institutions: they just need to meet them on the ground they want to be met on. That, perhaps, was the most surprising – and most refreshing – discovery of all, when we put Britain in one room.

This post represents the views of the authors and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE. It first appeared at LSE British Politics and Policy.

Britain in one room: reflections on a focus group of undecided voters during GE2019

During the 2019 election campaign, the University of Manchester hosted a series of focus groups of then undecided voters, organised with The Times and Public First. Timothy J. Oliver and Andy Westwood reflect on the experience of helping to run this event.

Understanding how voters are behaving is an ongoing struggle for many in our field – to which we can take qualitative and quantitative tools with equal vigour. Whilst all of us had seen plenty of polling data during the election campaign, and before, it is always sound practice to bring in qualitative evidence as well – to hear the voters give full flow to their views on the issues confronting the country, and to watch them respond to others do the same.

The event ‘Britain In One Room‘ had been inspired by a similar, albeit larger scale event, in the US, run by the New York Times called ‘America in One Room‘. Whilst the New York Times had high hopes that their project might find a ‘better way to disagree’, the British event was more focused on discovering what voters might agree or disagree about. To that end, in November 2019, we gathered 100 undecided voters on campus, and set about circulating them between different rooms, running different topics in each.

These voters were selected by a polling company, with subsets from four regions – London, the South, the Midlands and Wales, and the North. Scotland and Northern Ireland were excluded due to the different nature of the election campaigns being fought there. Demographically, we sought a broad balance of gender in each of the groups, and focused on selecting voters in the C1 and C2 categories, though there were still others from higher or lower sets. Politically, they were mixed by Remain and Leave in rough proportion to the result, and mostly had voted Conservative or Labour before, though all were now choosing between at least two, if not more, parties in the upcoming election.

In each room, there was a moderator – often a University academic – and a journalist from The Times, who would have space to ask some final questions. These included Times policy editor Oliver Wright, political editor Francis Elliott, and former deputy speaker of the House of Commons Natascha Engel. The topics set ranged from the inevitable discussion of Brexit, through the policies that voters had heard about, on to the question of Labour’s relationship with its Northern voters.

This was not, of course, a purely academic exercise – The Times had an interest in generating stories from it, which gave a different flavour to the procedure. A different form of output, aimed at a different audience, meant the journalists often asked what seemed to be simple questions – asking participants to raise their hands if they had changed their mind about how they would vote in a hypothetical second Brexit referendum, for example. This provided a clear background to their analysis, but also crystallised their views in a way that a more open-ended discussion might not – and by bookending it, provided a neat insight into perhaps some more surprising choices among the participants.

For the academics who took part, such as ourselves, this offered a fascinating layer of colour to the evidence already available to us on this election campaign. We knew, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn was deeply unpopular from the polling data – but in the groups that discussed the Labour Party, the depth of his unpopularity amongst these voters came to vivid life. We knew that voters were bored of Brexit – but, again, the colour added here was how angry many of them, from both sides of the referendum debate, were that the topic was still up for discussion. Voters felt as though Brexit was a roadblock to discussing issues like health, crime, education, and social services, that they felt badly needed attention they were being starved of by a Westminster hyper-fixated on an issue they thought would be settled by now. Many of them voiced concern that their communities were being neglected because Brexit was taking up so much air time, and that real issues confronting them – rising crime, lower quality public services, and so on – simply were not on the agenda for politicians as a result.

These voters clearly were frustrated, angry, and cynical – on the whole – about the course British politics had taken. Their trust in most politicians and the institutions of government was lower than it had been before the referendum, which in many cases had been a low starting point. Leave voters often expressed the notion that, given Britain hadn’t left the EU so long after the referendum, there was no point in them voting again. Remain voters often were simply weary of hearing about it, and just didn’t want to be reminded again.

But what united these voters was that they were also eager to engage again. All of them reflected that they knew very little about the Withdrawal Agreement but expressed a desire to learn about it, as well as a frustration it was not playing a bigger role in the campaign. Similar views were expressed on the future relationship with the EU, where voters wanted to know what different outcomes might mean for them, and the country at large, and felt neither politicians nor the media were effectively communicating on these issues.

We went into this event aware that voters were more cynical than before, frustrated and angry with politicians and events. But what we also found was that voters were eager for things to get better – for politicians to communicate with them directly and honestly, for the media and academia to discuss things like the Withdrawal Agreement. The layer of colour added bears hope for the future of British democracy in a way that headline figures about trust in politicians might not. Voters are eager to regain trust in their institutions: they just need to meet them on the ground they want to be met on. That, perhaps, was the most surprising – and most refreshing – discovery of all, when we put Britain in one room.

_________________

About the Authors

Timothy J. Oliver is Teaching Fellow at the University of Manchester.

 

 

Andy Westwood is Vice Dean for Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Humanities and Professor of Government Practice at the University of Manchester.

 

 

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: 原裕 劉 on Unsplash

Powered by WordPress | Designed by: index backlink | Thanks to insanity workout, car insurance and cyber security