Sunday, September 08, 2013

Does Compulsory Voting Deliver More Substantive Elections?

I've long been curious about how the political dynamics in a democracy that requires every qualified voter to vote, like Australia, work. So much of American electoral strategy is about turnout. And I'm not just talking about the various thinly-disguised efforts to suppress the votes of the other side, or the GOTV efforts for the supporters on your own side. What politicians say during a campaign and the news coverage itself is slanted because of turnout.

There is little point in doing things like ranting about how the president is a socialist secret Muslim pretender unless you're trying to energize the people that don't like the president to be enthusiastic enough to show up on election day. Those type of things are not going to change any minds. Unless you already hate the subject of the rants, they aren't all that convincing. It's just preaching to the choir. But that's still useful because of the choir is riled up enough, they will be motivated to show up at the polls. That's the whole point of talk radio. That also is the primary media strategy of a certain former Australian media mogul.

But if everyone is going to vote and turn out is no longer a factor, then, in theory, the campaigns should be more about changing minds than bringing out the minds that already agree with you. So much of American political analysis assumes that people's minds are basically fixed. You get the minorities or young people to vote, the Dems get a boost. If you get "white working class" people to vote, the Repubs get a boost. If all those groups must vote, then the campaign and its allies in the punditry world would have to focus on convincing people who would not otherwise vote for X to change their mind and do it anyway.

At least that's the theory. I wonder if that is how things actually work in Australia. I haven't seen anyone look at the recent Australian election through the lense of its compulsory voting rules.