US Elections – Voluntary

hill-and-donClose observation of US Presidential election campaigns shows the enormous and negative impact of voluntary voting.  Starry-eyed* Australians say voluntary voting simply means voters won’t be forced to choose between candidates they dislike.

They’re wrong – the differences between voluntary and compulsory voting are far-reaching.

US election campaigns – Presidential particularly – must devote massive resources to enrolling voters** which raises the cost, which puts pressure on candidates and parties to be constantly in fundraiser mode.  Many senior campaign advisors say candidates should spend half their time fundraising.  The voluntary nature of voting puts even greater pressures on the system and contributes to making US elections the money-pit and money-deformed system they are.

Four weeks out from election day, every last bit of local activity on the ground switches from being about voter enrolment to nagging people to vote – forget any thought of a high-minded contest of ideas.  Every.  Last.  Bit.  Of.  Local.  Activity.

But the bigger problem is the way voluntary enrolment and voting change the discussion.

In Australia’s compulsory voting system, knowing*** every voter is likely to vote, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter merely a mild preference between, say, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.  In the US system, candidates and campaign strategists have to generate in each voter a preference so strong that it motivates them to vote, usually on a working day when they don’t have to bother – a motivating preference.

That’s done through the use of language and persuasion tactics much more extreme than we usually see in Australia – the kind of campaign Australians say they find revolting: blowing minor differences into massive schisms, the most hyperbolic descriptions, careful mischaracterisation of the other side, pressing questions as though they were fact, aggressive and divisive language, and so on.  They all go to minimise any prospect of bipartisanship, political dialogue, or cross-party cooperation, anywhere in the political system.

In seeking to de-legitimise the opponent, they trash the institution; to save the village from falling to the enemy, they destroy the village.

There’s another issue, too: there’s a contract involved in voting – an exchange of obligations, a reciprocity – that lends the outcome legitimacy, and burdens the victor with obligations.  Those who participate in society by voting have a stake in its institutions, behaviours and success, and in exchange for them participating in elections, society and in particular the elected Government owes voters respect and recognition.  Acknowledgement of reciprocal obligations and legitimacies is weaker, and hence the existence of those things is weaker, between Governments and non-voters.

These consequences, driven so much by voluntary voting, tell a substantial part of the story behind the complete inability of the US system of Government, to govern.




(Half of the Ethical Consulting Services team – that would be Mike – will be embedded within the US Presidential campaign, from today up to US Election Day on 8 November.)


* And some who just want electoral advantage

** Enrolment is voluntary, too.

*** Presuming rather than knowing, but that’s another discussion entirely.




About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services:; Ethical strategies and programs which get you where you need to go ... * Exceptional government & stakeholder relations, * Thriving governance systems, * Specialised project facilitation, * Inbound investment assistance, * Successful marketing, communications and PR campaigns ... and customised training in each of these areas.

Posted on October 10, 2016, in campaigning, Culture, Culture change, Democracy, Election, marketing, Political tactics, Politics, Strategy, Voting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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