• An Argument Against Voting


    The comedian and presenter Russell Brand is currently the talk of the Internet, his recent article for the New Statesman and interview on Newsnight (see below) sparking a debate whether or not to vote in elections.


    Proudly stating that you aren’t voting is a very unpopular thing to do, but for some time I’ve believed that, for any one individual, making the effort to go and vote is a waste of time, though my reasons are different from Brand’s. I say this as someone who does in fact vote – I voted in the last general election, seeing my Liberal Democrat vote go towards supporting a coalition with Conservative David Cameron as its leader and George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Needless to say, I now regret that vote.

    What would have happened if I had voted differently? Cameron would still be PM. Clegg would still be his deputy. Whether I voted for Green, Labour or not at all, the outcome would have been the same. In fact, for my vote to have any effect, it would have to be the deciding vote – the top two candidates would have to have exactly the same number of votes.

    The odds of a single vote being able to affect the outcome of an election will vary depending on the election, the constituency, and so on. ‘Safe’ seats are of course going to have lower odds than contested seats. It’s difficult to estimate, but I knew in advance that my Lib Dem vote in a safe Labour (with Conservatives in second) constituency was an exercise in futility.

    This adds another complication. With a first-past-the-post system, tactical voting matters. If I judge that Green’s policies are the best, voting for them is just going to be a vote thrown away (unless I happened to be in Brighton). What I should have done is voted Labour to help keep the Tories out. However, I didn’t need to do this, as thankfully about six thousand other people did it for me. This system incentivises votes for candidates that voters don’t necessarily think are the best.

    The reason I never played the National Lottery is that the odds are so bad that it isn’t worth parting with the pound that I could buy a sandwich with, or give to a homeless person. I think a similar principle is at play with voting. Is it really worth making the effort to register, to walk down to the polling booth? It seems to me that you have to weigh up this effort with the odds that your vote will actually achieve what you want it to achieve. Most of the time, the effort won’t be worth it.




    But if everyone thought like that, then it wouldn’t be just one vote now, would it?

    Indeed. But I’m not arguing that not voting should be a collective project. I’m merely saying that for any individual, there is little incentive to vote, given that not voting won’t have any effect on whether anyone else will vote. Trying to persuade large groups of people not to vote is a different matter. I’m aware that this blog post might do that, but 1) It won’t be read by enough people to really shake things up, and 2) Even if the act of posting this is a bad thing, it doesn’t mean that the argument in the post is wrong.


    It feels good to participate in a thriving democracy. It’s this feeling I’m after.

    That’s great. That’s probably the reason I vote as well – there has to be some reason why someone as disillusioned as I am keeps making that trip to the polling office. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel that way, and it doesn’t give us a reason to criticise or scoff at someone for not voting.


    People fought for your right to vote… surely that’s a good reason to vote!

    I love having the right to vote. I like having the right to an abortion too – people did and still do fight for that right. But just as I don’t feel that having the right to an abortion means that I should seek out opportunities to have abortions, I don’t feel that having the right to vote means that I should feel any pressure to vote.


    Even if your vote doesn’t change anything, they still see it and notice that they were a bit closer to winning.

    They still see it, but I doubt 1 vote in 12,000 is going to alter their thoughts in any way. Again, this is something to weigh up depending on the precise circumstances of your constituency, and the likely effect of your vote.


    Don’t just not show up – if you’re protesting something then spoil your ballot instead!

    I really don’t see how this helps. The person who counts your vote looks at whatever revolutionary cliché you’ve written, thinks “another idiot” and sticks you on the spoiled ballots pile. It’s not as if it gets posted to Osborne who takes a look and thinks “Yes – down with the greedy corporations who control society.”


    If you don’t vote, then you’ve got no right to complain.

    I’ve heard this a few times, but I’ve never heard an argument for it. If you didn’t vote for the reasons I’ve given, i.e. because it’s too unlikely to have an effect on the outcome, then you recognised that voting wouldn’t solve the thing you’re complaining about. And what if you voted Green and ‘threw your vote away’? What if the people you helped vote in are the ones messing up? I can’t stand the coalition government in the UK, yet I ‘voted for them’ (though I don’t remember the Lib Dem box stating that it would be a vote for Cameron becoming Prime Minister).


    One Final Subsidiary Argument…

    I voted for the Liberal Democrats because picked an issue I cared about – digital and Internet freedom. The Digital Economy Act was proposed at the time, and the Labour MP supported it. The Lib Dems were pretty good on it, as they were with secular issues, free speech and so on. So, I picked Lib Dem.

    Since then, Clegg has become a bit of a joke, the Lib Dems have lost a lot of support due to their involvement in the coalition government with the Tories, and I discovered that the Labour MP in my constituency is excellent (though he shouldn’t have voted for that stupid Act). I was wrong. I’m glad my vote had no effect.

    When it comes to voting, I don’t really know what I’m doing. So perhaps I shouldn’t vote – I’ll just leave that to those who aren’t as uninformed. Many people seem to be political experts, so perhaps it’s for the best.



    Category: Politics

    Article by: Notung

    I started as a music student, studying at university and music college, and playing trombone for various orchestras. While at music college, I became interested in philosophy, and eventually went on to complete an MA in Philosophy in 2012. An atheist for as long as I could think for myself, a skeptic, and a political lefty, my main philosophical interests include epistemology, ethics, logic and the philosophy of religion. The purpose of Notung (named after the name of the sword in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen) is to concentrate on these issues, examining them as critically as possible.
    • I don’t think it’s a given that not voting will have no effect whatsoever on whether other people will vote. Most any study that I can think of which investigated whether people are readily influenced by the behavior of those around them concluded that they are indeed, sometimes shockingly so.

    • Shadow of a Doubt

      I like your article, but I disagree with the part about not complaining if you do not vote. I would say that if you don’t buy a lottery ticket, and then subsequently do not win the lottery, you are an idiot if you complain. The same logic holds for voting. No matter how astronomical the odds are against you, it’s still better then nothing. While your participation may not likely have had an effect on the outcome, not participating at all guarantees that you have no effect on the outcome, and complaining amounts to saying “I am pissed off at the results of everyone else’s efforts, even though I could not be bothered to make one myself.”

      Apart from this, I agree with your article. Don’t vote if you don’t want to, but then don’t complain that the results of something you willfully refused to influence did not turn out the way you want.

    • iamcuriousblue

      My biggest problem with Russell Brand’s essay on New Statesman is that so much of it is incoherent, flying from one topic to the next, vaguely centering around the point of the inauthenticity of modern life and politics. And, of course, he completely loses me at the idea that New Age spirituality is in some way part of the solution to the World’s problems, or a solution to anything, really.

      Of course, I say this as somebody who generally likes Brand as a comedian and a personality, and thought his appearance on MSNBC was a fantastic coup. (The usual gang of idiots somehow managed to construe it as “harassment” of the female interviewer, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom. Maybe because he was taking the piss out an MSNBC rather than a Fox News panel?)

    • sjjay

      Oh please. We are human beings with the right to vote, complain, be happy and do anything we like. And it is up to the individual involved to deal with the consequences of their actions. I for one do not vote for my own reasons. But i will still complain. Tough deal with it….I am ahuman with 100% right to be be who i am, it is my basic human rights. What is funnier is the people “VOTERS”. Who vote them in and then complain about what their doing. Surely you should give yourself a ticking off for voting them in. By all means though complain as much as you like, you are a indivdual human being as well………

    • Who are you arguing against here?

    • basha0423

      What’s the point in voting really? These days the voice of the people on a ballot means nothing. Someone can take it to the Supreme Court and get that voice overturned. Or better yet, the president can overrule anything. I used to vote and I was an advocate of it but politics has become dirty and so have the people in it. I think we all need to stop voting and see where this country heads. If it’s just for a party to reign supreme then that’s pretty shallow. It shouldn’t be about a particular party. It should be about what’s best for the citizens of this country. Or have we forgotten that?

    • Elroy

      The difference is you if you do not buy a ticket then you are not part of the game except in politics you are born into this ‘game’ and whether you vite or not you are forced to play by the rules. That is why we complain. If you were forced to pay for lottery but objected to the idea of it, would you not complain?

    • Elroy

      The amount of time people waste on the learning of, the act of, and discussing of politics could be far better spent ACTUALLY HELPING a cause, doing kind and meaningful things, picking up litter, planting a tree, generating extra income for charity, fixing a public asset i.e. a park, teaching a child values, etc etc. If only there was a way we could entrust politicians to do whats best for us then we could spend more time doing and less time talking. But wait, we cant. Politicians cannot be trusted(so why vouch for them in the form of a vote) and humans (majority) will not step up. The whole system is bull. and by system i mean society not just politics.