#030 Democracy Isn’t Bookie Betting

There is a pervasive idea which haunts British democracy. The idea that if an individual chooses, in good faith, not to vote for a particular political party, that individual is somehow ‘enabling’ or ‘letting the worst party in’, and is therefore somehow an irresponsible, foolish, misguided, deluded or immoral person, worthy of condemnation. This argument reoccurs again and again in modern political discourse, particularly in Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

Choosing not to vote for the supposedly least worst option of the two political parties considered most popular, or most likely to win, in a given area, is not somehow helping the supposedly or subjectively worst political party. This idea is an age old, manipulative political tactic and trope and little more.

Vote Shaming Example, From An Individual (2022)
Another Vote Shaming Example, From Another Individual (2022)

This idea is fundamentally unreasonable, misguided, anti-democratic and sinister. An individual, choosing to vote for a political party in good faith, should never be shamed or made to feel ashamed for doing so.

In reality, vote shaming, or support shaming, is no more than a political tool to manipulate or socially pressure people into voting for a particular political party, this is a dirtier, lazier and more negative alternative to a political party and its supporters, campaigning and winning votes positively, based on the party’s policies, presentation and perceived credibility at a given time.

Example of Vote Manipulation, From A Political Party (April 2021)
Another Example of Vote Manipulation, From Another Political Party (December 2019)

Voters should always have the right to support, endorse or vote for whichever party & individual candidate they personally favour, in any given election. This is fundamental to a healthy, functioning democracy and people should not be shamed into thinking twice about exercising this basic, straight forward democratic right.

Or to put it another way, voting in a democracy isn’t bookie betting.

With bookie betting, an individual chooses to gambles on a team, individual or horse, based on who they think can, or is likely to, win.

Whereas in a democracy, people should back a party or individual they most agree with and want to help win. This is the important distinction.

Bookie betting is passive, with people spectating from the outside, but voting in an election is active, we are all directly involved. Often people see democracy as a two party game where they passively choose between who they think will win from the top two options, based on the events of the time, rather than as a free, sincere democratic choice from all the parties and individuals standing.

People that attempt to apply social pressure or social stigma, to try to coerce others into voting in a way they deem acceptable, are really trying to manipulate for their own ends. This tactic clearly goes against the spirit of what chartists fought for back in 19th Century Great Britain & Ireland, when suffrage was significantly extended. Vote shaming is often used by major political parties and their advocates & outriders, as well as by individuals acting alone.

A Third Example of Vote Shaming (October 2021)

Here we examine the practice of vote/support shaming & manipulation, and expose it for the malign & sinister tactic it is.

First of all it discourages people to vote positively based on a candidate, political party, political leader or policies they value, agree & find affinity with most. Instead it pushes voting based primarily on fears people may have of life in the future being made worse for them, or for others in society, by the (allegedly) worst party winning the election.

Second, the moral responsibility actially lies with the professional political parties, leaders and candidates more widely, to offer voters good reasons to vote for their party, in the form of policies, pledges, virtues and values. It is never the voter’s responsibility to deliver a party votes and power regardless of what they offer the voter, out of blind tribal loyalty or ignorance, nor is it the voters responsibility to try to tactically predict and then pre-emptively game the system in their interest.

Thirdly, and most crucially, the voting system itself carries huge responsibility - proportional (or even supplemental) voting systems are the solution to the problem of voters ‘splitting the vote’ and ‘letting the (subjectively) worse party in’, rather than the voters themselves merely participating in the democratic process, as individuals in good faith. We should reject and look to change a voting system which both sustains the practice of vote shaming, a misguided, counter productive and sinister practice, and one that can even make people feel bad about themselves for merely voting for a political party they most agree with, as the voting system, ‘First Past the Post’ can. The strategy to do this will be explored in other articles in the future.

‘Tactical Voting’ by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) (2020)

It’s also important to remember Great Britain does not have a presidential system, individual voters do not directly control and vote on who leads a future government, they vote for constituency MP representatives only, which together make up the parliament and government.

To be clear, vote shaming or manipulation should not to be confused with reasonable and direct criticism of voter choices after the fact, which is something quite different, and altogether more sincere. For instance if someone votes for a party who subsequently bring in a policy that you believe damages the country, it is perfectly reasonable to point this out to the individual so they can reflect on it and possibly make a different decision in the future, but that future decision should be one made by them free of manipulation and coercion.

Equally if an individual chooses to give up the idea their vote is an individual expression of their identity or political will, and instead chooses to use it as a ‘tactical tool’, as part of a kind of collective hack, to help bring about the overall result they want in the country, that’s a matter for that individual and the ballot box. It’s those who go out to shame, socially pressure and manipulate others in advance, for their own ends, that must be carefully resisted.

So if it’s true your vote is your voice then why allow this practice to influence what we say? Reject vote shaming & manipulation, call out those who engage in it and always have confidence in your thoughtful decision making, as an individual voter, in any future election.

Vote Manipulation - From A Lib Dem Local Campaign Leaflet (2022)



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store