Brexit vs Remain: A comment from a distance, or: Another reason for compulsory voting (or at least compulsory turning up)

Apart from the many ramifications of the result, surely one of the most interesting lessons of the UK vote to leave the EU is the way young people voted overwhelmingly to stay, while the vote to leave got progressively more dominant as the voters got older.

The key graphic is this one:

Remain/Leave as a function of voter age.

Remain/Leave as a function of voter age.

Some questions come to mind; what fractions of each group voted? As far as I know, voting is not compulsory in the UK, and voter turnout varies with age. It turns out only about 36% of the youngest category voted — so the apathetic got what they deserve, which is to say exactly what they presumably did not want.

But there is the deeper question of the working of democracy. Now, we can’t really go away from all votes counting for ‘one’, yet, but it is true that votes are already not equal. Not all districts have the same number of electors. In Australia all states get 12 senators, even though Tasmania has about the same population as Newcastle and Wollongong combined, and those two cities do not get 6 senators each. We already fiddle with the votes for historical or woolly ‘equity’ reasons.  We talk about ‘positive discrimination’ in the workplace; how about at the ballot box?…



…yet is is easy to believe that wealthy, established, retired people are perhaps not going to be strongly motivated to vote in ways that will benefit the nation as a whole in the long term as much as younger people who are going to have to live and work in the nation long term.

We are seeing its influence all about us, in all the western democracies with aging populations. We see it in Australia where changes that might make it easier for younger people to buy homes or get an education get stymied by the vested interests of the investment-property owning classes, who didn’t have to pay for their own university degrees but who don’t want to contribute to anyone else getting a leg up either. Well, that’s a gross generalisation, but then, isn’t that another name for ‘democracy’?

Maybe one good of Brexit will be all the young voters who now realise they should have got off their arses. In Australia we have compulsory voting (or, at least, compulsory turning up to get your name crossed off the roll — you can still choose to disenfranchise yourself after that by putting an empty paper into the box, so there’s no real loss of ‘freedom’, except the freedom to not take part at all) — I wonder if the Brits are thinking about implementing that now… Forcing people to choose apathy looks smarter and smarter all the time.


Or else.


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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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