5 tips on how to vote
With the election nearly upon us, Rob Pyne explores what psychology can teach us about how to vote.
“Democracy is the worst of all political systems – except for all the others one that have ever been tried”. – Winston Churchill.
When it comes to voting, people tend to either feel burdened by the choice and find it hard to pick, or they have a clear cut and confident preference – often driven not by admiration for one party, but by hatred of the other(s). Feelings can run high, which means it’s harder to make good decisions.
There are a whole raft of psychological issues that murky the democratic waters…
- People tend to vote for the leader not the party,
- They often vote according to whether the leader looks and sounds the part (not on their actual record), and
- People are making a choice between the actual record of one party versus the hollow promises of the opposition party
- In Australia the preference system means that your vote can be effectively bartered to another party. If you want to create your own preference list you’ll be faced with filling in a ballot sheet 3 feet wide, which is enough to put anyone off.
Here are my top tips to make a quick and effective decision on your vote.
First, decide who you’re voting for…
What I mean is: are you voting for yourself and your family and your own self-interest, or are you voting for the country as a whole? The democratic system is founded mainly on the idea of people voting for their own self-interest, but it arguably makes for a better country if people think about others and the disadvantaged too. The truth is most people vote for a mixture of both reasons, so your job here is to be honest about where the line is for you.
Second, sort out your key issues
Related to this, you then need to decide which policy areas are really important to you and which are nice-to-haves. Take a look across parental leave, immigration, broadband, education, climate change, gay marriage and so on. Decide which of these are the crucial to win your vote, and which are nice to haves. Don’t just follow whatever policy the media focuses on the day before the election. Have a think about which issues shape the future health of Australian society, not just the next year or two.
Action: write down 2 headings, “us” and “everyone” and list the key issues under each heading. Think about whether these issues are short or long term.
Third, check out the policies
Examine the policies of the major parties on the key issues from step 2. ABC’s vote compass can help you with this a bit, but it’s not going to do all the work for you as it only covers certain issues, and it weights them all equally. It also treats each issue as a multiple choice option, which is very simplistic.
Action: dive into the parties’ policies on your top 3-5 issues
Fourth, take out the emotions
Try and understand and reduce the impact of your emotions. Every single decision we make has an emotional element. And it’s the same when it comes to politics. The people, the media, our experiences – they all give us reasons to like or dislike political parties and leaders. You have to accept this, and then try and go beyond it. Try and vote for the party, not the leader. Try and separate the achievements and policies of the party from how much you love or hate their character. And try not to dwell on one or two mistakes (the media loves to do this, but how many of us have made a mistake free life?).
Remember that change is rarely as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared. We are very good at getting used to it – so try not to exaggerate your fears or hopes.
Action: write down what you like and dislike about each leader and then try and work out how much of what you’ve written is true and relevant, and how much of it is guesswork and irrelevant
Fifth, please share so that other people also think about their vote
Your vote will be more meaningful if other people vote wisely too. Please share this article using the buttons below so that other people can think about why they vote the way they do.
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