Elections are upon us again. In the USA it’s Romney or Obama, and in the UK we have our first ever police commissioner elections. For some people the choice will be easy: they will vote the way they always vote, even though, as fixed voters, it means that their political influence is minimal. But what if you are a floating voter? Or what — as, for many Liberal Democrat voters facing the police commissioner elections — your party or favoured candidate is not on the list?
We once organised a meeting on this subject in the city of Ghent, Belgium. Unfortunately, most people who came to it did not want to know how to vote, but what to vote. They were not intersted in the principles for making up their own minds, but simply on an instruction as to which candidate they should select.
If you’re a fixed voter, and your candidate is available at the next bout of elections, you’ve probably already made up your mind. But, even then, there are a large number of things in modern life which call us to make a choice where there is no party candidate standing. X Factor votes may not be particularly significant, but choice of school governors, staff reps in a job negotiation and even club elections are potentially substantial choices which will shape the future.
People vote for essentially four reasons, two of which (I argue) are good, and two of which (I maintain) are bad. This isn’t just me. Aristotle, in his Politics, describes six kinds of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and polity, versus tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Monarchy he saw as one ruler ruling for the benefit of all. Aristocracy was the noble ruling for the benefit of all, and polity was the citizens ruling for the benefit of all. Tyranny, by contrast, was a single ruler ruling for their own benefit, oligarchy was the powerful ruling for their own benefit, and democracy was the people ruling for selfish purposes.
Most modern thinkers would argue that monarchy and aristocracy inevitably lead in time to tyranny and oligarchy. However, we have appropriated Aristotle’s demeaning term democracy to describe the polity which he recommends: citizens, deciding together for everyone’s good. Equally, though, we recognise the tyranny of the 51% vote where the majorrity rule at the expense of the minority, and we deplore it.
My belief is that people vote for four reasons:
You may yet be saying that you always vote with your gut instinct, and you can’t trust the politicians anyway. Unfortunately, being nice and being honest don’t necessarily equip someone to lead a country, or even a police authority, any more than being nasty and brutal do. It’s still necessary to ask the question: what will they do?