#030 Democracy Is Not Bookie Betting

Principled Voting Is Never Shameful

Progressive Primers
6 min readApr 26, 2021

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The Simpsons (1996)

A spectre is haunting British democracy - the spectre of (tactical) voter shaming.

Voter shaming is the pervasive idea that if an individual chooses, in good faith, not to vote for a pre-prescribed political party, that individual is somehow ‘enabling’ or ‘letting in’ the worst party, and is therefore an irresponsible, foolish, misguided, deluded or immoral person, worthy of condemnation.

This idea is actually a vote manipulation tactic which occurs and reoccurs, again and again in modern political discourse, particularly in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. In the United States for instance there is a phrase “Vote Blue No Matter Who” used by Democratic Party advocates to push people to vote Democrat regardless of the candidate or party policy platform.

Choosing to not vote for the (supposedly or subjectively considered) least worst option of two political parties considered most popular, or most likely to win, in a given area, is not helping the (subjectively considered) worst political party.

Voter Shaming Example (2022)
Another Voter Shaming Example from James Harris (2022)

This tactic is fundamentally misguided, unreasonable, 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.

Voter shaming again, is no more than a political tool to manipulate or socially pressure people into voting for a particular political party. It’s 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.

An Example of Voter Shaming From A Political Party (April 2021)
Another Example of Voter Shaming From A Different 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 is not bookie betting.

When bookie betting, an individual chooses to gamble on a team, individual or horse, solely based on who they think can win 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, whereas 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 and asking for votes.

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. These people are going against the spirit of the chartists back in 19th Century Great Britain & Ireland, when suffrage was eventually & significantly extended.

To note vote shaming is often used by major political parties and their advocates & outriders, as well as by individuals acting alone.

Local Lib Dem Campaign Leaflet (2021)
A Third Individual Example of Voter Shaming (October 2021)

Below we more closely interrogate and examine the practice of voter shaming, and expose it as the malign & sinister tactic it is.

Firstly 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 actually 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 voters’ responsibility to deliver a party votes & power regardless of what they offer, 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 (First Past the Post) 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. Voters should not have to change their behaviour to work around the failings of a voting system. Most countries in the world have already recognised this and as a result utilise a proportional voting system, the U.K., Canada and the United States are the exceptions.

We should reject and look to change a voting system which helps sustain the practice of vote shaming, a misguided, counter productive and sinister practice, that targets people merely for voting for a political party they most agree with.

Steve Coogan on the Need For Proportional Representation (2023)

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 M.P. representatives only, which together make up the parliament and government.

To be clear, voter shaming should not 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 socially pressure and manipulate others in advance, for their own ends, that must be strongly resisted.

‘Tactical Voting’ Explained, (Electoral Reform Society (ERS)) (2020)

So if it’s true “your vote is your voice”, why allow this practice to influence what we say at the ballot box?

Reject vote shaming, call out those who engage in it and always have confidence in your decision making, as an individual voter, in any future election.

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