How did you vote anyway? asked a casual acquaintance in small talk at school pick up recently. Whether it’s Brexit or the General election, whether you’re commenting on the ongoing Presidential race, or who’s going to draw the (increasingly) short straw of running this country come Autumn, there’s a lot of reading to do if you want to keep up with the volatile political discussion at the water cooler nowadays.
Google published information last week that showed a lot of voters in the EU referendum actually didn’t know what they were voting for when they ticked their little box of choice. While this information was taken to mean that people voted Leave while uninformed about the facts, I suppose it’s just as likely that people voted Remain with as much ignorance. But what’s new? People make ill thought out decisions and vote selfishly all the time. People are erratic and thoughtless and don’t have all the facts when they exercise their right to vote. That was true at the beginning of the 17th century when government elections as we know them first began, and it hasn’t changed. Some people vote because that’s how their parents have always voted, others may skim a biased article on the way home from work one day, and some people read up everything there is to know about the subject and make their own entirely subjective choice anyway. Hey, that’s democracy.
It’s been a political few weeks, and there’s a lot to talk about. But as far as I’m aware, no one has taken away our right to a secret ballot. So what’s new, in answer to my own question? I think a large part of it is social media. Unlike our parents in the last referendum on the topic, I could tell you how the majority of my friends voted on Brexit, and which party they align themselves with politically in the UK, because most of them shout really loudly about it. They produce long statuses and blog entries entreating everyone to understand their reasons for voting, and then often get pretty angry if the results don’t go their way. I’ve seen a lot of abuse towards ‘Brexiters’ this month, and it’s made me a little bit ashamed of the way our generation discusses politics. I’m pretty sure asking who you voted for used to be kind of on par with asking which sexual position was your favourite, but the stigma is well and truly gone. If I don’t want to answer, I’m giving a de facto answer by omission, and must be a ‘raving Tory’ or a ‘Left wing nutcase’ depending on the matter at hand and what the loudest opinion of the time is.
And I’m torn about it. On the one hand, I’m probably far more knowledgeable than I would be otherwise. On the scale of informed voters, I’d put myself somewhere in the middle. I read what people share, I look for unbiased advice (if there is any such thing) but I do sometimes find myself apologising in the middle of political debate that I don’t know the exact facts or I don’t have a specific example to give. If I didn’t know that I was going to have to defend myself at every turn, if our vote was as anonymous as it was a generation or two ago, I probably wouldn’t think so hard about my reasons for my political allegiances and choices. So that’s good right? More informed equals a fairer society, better decision making, more accountability for the powers that be. In theory anyway.
But even setting aside the fact that in this recent referendum we don’t seem to have managed any of the above, isn’t a person entitled to their ignorant vote? As it stands, we aren’t being forced to pass a mini political quiz before we are allowed into the voting booth. Even the earliest democratic elections in Greece had nothing to do with how much you knew about the topic, and were based on who your parents were and if you had a penis. If I decide that I don’t want to research anything, I want to copy a friend, ask my grandparents, flip a coin… that’s my democratic right. Don’t get me wrong, it can certainly be frustrating to watch, especially in a time where so much information is at our fingertips if we want to be educated. But isn’t it what countless minorities fought for? The ability to vote without having to justify yourself, without fear of judgement, and without having to fit into a specific box of gender, race, or level of education.
Especially in a public vote where we aren’t given the opportunity to abstain, and no one really knows the consequence of either decision, aren’t we all just choosing one set of problems over another? I’m not sure why anyone should have to justify how he or she makes that judgement call. And they certainly shouldn’t be nervous of abuse ‘from the losing team’ if they come out on top.
If you have a problem with those who were found googling the EU after the vote itself was dead and buried, if you take issue with people voting selfishly, ignorantly, or for mundane reasons, and if you’re one of the people who is debating the results to death with every person who differs in opinion to you, you don’t have a problem with the referendum results; you have a problem with democracy itself.