If all the non-voters chose to support one single political party, they could beat all other parties. However, non-voters are not a homogenous group and cooperation is observed very rarely among them.
The motives why people do not participate actively at elections are manifold. The Budapest office of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation and the Policy Solutions opinion research company have jointly sought after these motives and tried to identify the different types of non-voters. The two biggest such groups are: notorious non-voters and forced-by-circumstances non-voters. While there are many different reasons why the second group is staying away, the “multiple offenders” among the non-voters are mostly disappointed with the political situation as a whole. Tamás Boros, manager of Policy Solutions, sees there is a growing gap between politicians and voters.
Who goes to vote? Who doesn’t?
The study found that citizens with a higher education and higher age, who feel more obliged towards the democratic system and participate actively in their community, are much more likely to vote. Although the participation rate at elections varies among the supporting groups of the different political parties as well. While in the group of voters with a left orientation the number of non-voters has increased massively, in the group of voters with a right orientation the probability of participating is about 10% higher. Boros gives this explanation: it often happens that voters who are right oriented hold conservative values, thus they consider voting more as their duty.
“The treasure chest of the non-voters” – Jan Niklas Engels from the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation opened a conference about non-voters in Hungary in 2013 with this expression. “If someone could mobilise the group of non-voters he could influence the 2014 elections in a significant way,” he predicted back then.
This would have been a good opportunity especially for the parties in the left-liberal spectrum. In the past it was always the left side that could summon a high number of votes from people who were not really interested in politics, and reach a high participation rate in total.
On the other hand, Fidesz gains from a low participation rate, due to the fact that they have a fixed pool of voters. Gábor Győri, senior analyst at Policy Solutions, explained why the left parties were unable to mobilise the non-voters at the last election in the following way: when the results of an election are unsure, more voters are attracted to cast their vote. However, in April people were convinced that Fidesz would be re-elected. It was clearly communicated by the media as well. Despite using slogans such as “Governmental Change 2014”, the left parties were unable to convince people that there was a realistic chance of actually making a change.
An important topic for Europe
The participation rate at the European Parliamentary elections is traditionally low; even if an institution such as the European Union, which has more and more tasks and authority, would really need the feedback of its citizens. This is why Johannes Wachs, initiator of the website www.voteinhungary.net, is trying to inform as many people as possible about how they can make use of their voting right.
The mathematician supplies a step-by-step guide on how foreigners in Hungary can participate at the EU election this Sunday. Wachs believes that voting is the only way for citizens to influence their politicians and to give them legitimacy. He thinks that being absent can be justified only when all the available options are unacceptable, or the voters want to deny the legitimacy of an institution.
This second point has especially great importance for the EU elections. “The European Parliament needs all the support it can get to take care of its new responsibilities in the way that it was regulated in the Lisbon Contract,” Wachs says. “It needs legitimacy to handle the numerous problems in Europe.”
Whoever would like to see the European project move forward should vote this weekend.