Saving democracy through compulsory voting?

CNN recently published a surprisingly starkly worded opinion piece titled Stupid voters enable broken government. The gist of the article is that we have governments we elect, and therefore governments we deserve.

But do we, really?

A commenter points out the following:
Most eligible voters don't even vote. Only 37% did in the 2010 election. That means it only takes 18.87% of all eligible voters to get elected. And that means a candidate must pander to the bat shit crazies...because the batshit crazies are definitely voting.

It's very likely the other 63% of voters don't show up to the polls because they don't think the candidates represent their views. This works out to a feedback effect since if they did show up, their opinions would carry weight and the candidates would reflect their views.
I've spent a fair amount of time contemplating the faults of democracy, but its salvation might be much more straightforward than I thought.

Edit: Wikipedia has a list of countries with compulsory voting. Out of countries that have it, 12 countries are listed as enforcing it. Prominent among these are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, France, Peru, Singapore, Uruguay. Most of these countries don't seem to be faring too badly, but they seem to vary widely nevertheless.

Comments

The Horse said…
We have compulsory voting here in Australia. I'm not sure it makes much of a difference to be honest. If there is no one on the ballot that is worth voting most people vote informal so in effect throw their vote away.

I think stupid and inept government is plaguing most of the democracies around the world right now. They all seem to have moved to the ideological middle and really don't offer anything of substance, meaning voter apathy. To be honest i think it is the greatest challenge for western nations to overcome these issues.
denis bider said…
Thank you for your comment. I'm not familiar with Australian politics, but I was under the impression that it was competently run.

I think it's important to contrast two different problems in what kinds of politicians get elected.

It's one thing to have politicians like you described - those who an ideological middle ground, so politics is all about compromise.

It's another thing to have radically incompetent and corrupt politicians get elected, like George W. Bush, and perhaps next year, someone like Rick Perry.

In a compulsory voting environment, I would expect to see more bland, middle ground politicians, but I think this is a genuine representation of what people want; whereas a non-compulsory system, like in the US, allows the election of completely inappropriate people, based on the votes of the crazy.

Given this choice, I think the bland politicians would be much preferable. Would you not agree?
The Horse said…
To a point yes, the issues is when you get so bland that no one is capable of true leadership. But we still have our issues of radical policy. Our previous Government run by John Howard implemented a set of work laws called work choices that effectively stripped away 50 years of workers rights.

Now the issue is not that this policy was made law, but the previous election, where the opposition offered nothing new, and the incumbent was automatically voted in again. Thus they thought giving them mandate to do as they pleased. Yes they lost the next election, but note I said they lost it, the opposition definitely did not win it.

Our System of government suffers the same as yours does under lobbying from minority or interest groups.

Is there a better way ? Well if there is I will be the first in line. We live with imperfect systems of government because we live in an imperfect world.
denis bider said…
I think it's mostly that we have different ideas of perfection.

In some cases, everyone lacks fundamental insight to be able to decide what the right answer to an ethical question is. Lacking this unreachable insight, we make different assumptions, arriving at different conclusions. This describes e.g. the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversy in the US.

In other cases, we look at life from our different individual perspectives, and come up with different theories of what works and what does not. Because life is complex and individual situations aren't reproducible, our conclusions are mostly guesswork, and frequently fit what we want to believe, instead of what is actually true.

In a country of conflicting viewpoints, a bland government actually reflects public opinion better than a decisive government that pleases one group and offends the rest.
boris_kolar said…
Maybe the idea of a single leader needs to be fixed. It's unreasonable to expect that one person (president of a political party or president of the republic) could lead economy, diplomacy, laws, science, culture, and everything for everyone. An excellent economist might lack diplomatic skills and an elite diplomat may know nothing about economy. Maybe we need fully autonomous and directly elected leader for each ministry? Maybe we should strip political parties of all powers, redirecting them to individuals? Maybe we should find a way to objectively measure success or failure of individual ministers?
denis bider said…
I'm not sure that a single leader is the problem. He does outsource his work to people who are supposed to be more specialized in individual ministries, and those people themselves outsource their work to aides who are supposed to have the necessary field knowledge. The president or prime minister should act mainly to guide the ministries to work together, and so they do not fight each other. It's not his job to come up with a solution for every single thing, just to manage the people who do.

If you remove the prime minister / president, then you are left with ministries who will possibly be working against each other's interests, resulting in worse outcomes, and even more inefficient budget use.

I'm not aware of a successful major corporation that works without a CEO. If not having a CEO would enable a corporation to function better, I'm sure we would be seeing it.

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