Analysis: Why your vote matters more this time

Seats vs votes? The popular vote matters much more this time round
Seats vs votes? The popular vote matters much more this time round

Your vote matters more this election than it ever has before.

By Ian Dunt

The basic rule is always the same: No-one cares what you think if you don't vote. You just don't count. All those thoughts and opinions you have go absolutely nowhere.

If you have no interest in politics then it's sensible not to vote. But if you have a different reason for questioning the need to head down the polling station, then you really have no reason not to make your voice heard tomorrow.


If you remain unimpressed by the main parties, or angry at the expenses scandal, then not voting is the worst thing you can do. There are a number of options open to you.

Firstly, there are the minority parties. Respect, on the left, is fielding many candidates this year, and there are certain seats in London and Birmingham which they could very well win. If you feel Labour has betrayed its left-wing roots, then support Respect. If you are slightly more moderate than that, but still firmly on the left, vote Green. The Greens have a very good chance of returning their first MP this year, in Brighton and Hove. If you're further to the right of David Cameron's Conservatives, or remain staunchly eurosceptic, vote for Ukip. The Scottish National party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru represent those voters in Scotland and Wales who want independence from the UK.

If you dislike all these options, or want to lodge a protest against the system in general, then spoil your ballot paper. Some people consider this juvenile, but it does have some limited effect. When the results are read out on the night, the number of spoiled ballots is also included in the count. Many of these are just incorrectly filled in, but for those who believe in the 'don't vote it only encourages them' mantra, this is the best tactic. It confirms that you are politically engaged but not satisfied with what is on offer.

Many people believe there is no reason for them to vote because is simply won't count. This argument is difficult to counter, because it contains a truth. The UK is one of the least representative democracies in the western world. Only around 120 constituencies actually matter to the result, the rest just vote for the same party over and over again. Several constituencies in the country always return a Labour or Conservative MP. You can find out more about your constituency at http://www.voterpower.org.uk/.

Electoral reform activists say this disenfranchises everyone. Lets take a solid Tory seat as an example. Anyone who supports a different party is disenfranchised because their votes just don't have any effect. But Tory voters are also disenfranchised. Once the win is confirmed, any further Tory votes just pile up in the constituency making no impact whatsoever. This system favours Labour and the Tories, whose vote is often localised, but disadvantages parties with support spread out across the country, such as the Greens or the Lib Dems.

Under proportional representation (PR), which is the system favoured by many electoral reform activists, every vote would count. The number of seats in parliament would be based on the level of popular support, not constituency gains.

Most voters aren't quite as upset about this situation as political obsessive. They usually just vote tactically, and are quite used to doing so. But this election is different. If, as the polls suggest, we are heading towards a hung parliament, the parties' relative level of popular support will play an important role in negotiations, even if it doesn't translate into seats.

Here's why: In the early stages of the election campaign the Lib Dems looked set to come second, or even first, in the popular vote, but last in the allocation of seats. That now looks less likely, but if any party's seats put them in a different position, relative to the other parties, to their share of the popular vote, the argument that the system is broken will have huge weight. The issue will go from minority concern to something akin to a popular movement, and the pressure for reform will be difficult to escape.

Even if this situation does not occur, substantial popular support will strengthen party leaders' hands in the event of negotiations. As I mentioned earlier, the Lib Dem support is spread across the country. If the TV debates had the effect we thought they did, Nick Clegg could enjoy a surge in popular votes, even if his gain in seats is more modest. This would allow him to negotiate with an air of democratic legitimacy, with a mandate, which he does not currently possess.

The result of this week's election is very much in doubt. With such a tight race, we can expect turnout to be higher than in recent years, when a Labour victory was pretty much taken for granted. These are historic political times, and you would do well to have your voice heard. Even if the vote doesn't affect the result in your constituency, it could very well influence the way a government is formed if the country returns a hung parliament.

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