This is a rather embarrassing admission for someone who works in politics. However, my indecision about who to vote for isn’t unusual. It reflects the struggles many voters face. Frustration at being ignored by the MPs we voted for, anger at numerous public spending scandals – along with all the other scandals – and a lack of leadership and substance coming from political parties have created a sense of disenchantment among voters.
Is it any wonder that many of us don’t know who to vote for?
On top of all that, I’m a Kiwi. I’m used to a system that gives me two votes – one for the MP and one for the party. Not only am I struggling to make a decision about party and person in the one vote, I can’t get my head around the disproportionate way votes are turned into seats. But that’s a rant for another day…
There may be glaring flaws with our political system, but as The West Wing’s President Bartlett wisely said: decisions are made by those who show up.
Voting underpins our democratic system, which is why it’s a particularly powerful and important way to make our voice heard. Many of us may think that our vote doesn’t matter, that politicians are just going to do what they want regardless. I would argue this isn’t always the case.
At the last election we saw 76 per cent of over-65s vote, compared with about 44 per cent of 16 to 24 year-olds and 55 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds. These young people make up a larger proportion of the population yet, arguably, policy tends to favour the smaller group of over-65s. It’s interesting to note that during a time of significant austerity measures by the government, pensions have remained untouched.
It goes without saying that I’ll be showing up to vote come election day. It’s deciding who to vote for that is proving a challenge as I strive to make a wise decision that reflects my values, principles and above all, my faith.
My suggestions below aren’t scientific, nor do they include numerous other ways you can come to a decision. But I hope you find it somewhat helpful as you unpack what’s important to you and wade through the political spin that is currently dominating the headlines.
1. Decide which issues are most important to you and narrow this down to a few non-negotiables. Some people vote on a single issue. The problem here is that this tends to disregard the complexities of politics and the inevitable nuances that are part and parcel with party politics. Others may have so many non-negotiables they’ll never find a fit.
2. Find out where each party stands on your key issues. Have a look at their website, see what they say on social media, read the papers and watch or listen to interviews. The next idea magazine by the Evangelical Alliance includes a helpful grid outlining where the political parties stand on eight key issues. You can find those online at eauk.org/idea from 1 March.
3. Get to know the candidates standing in your constituency. Attend hustings, arrange a meeting so you can talk with them face-to-face, look at what they’ve said on policy and find out their track record for helping your community. If any of the candidates have been in parliament, you can have a look at their voting record online.
Once you have this information it’s a matter of finding a balance between the person you think will best represent you and work hard for your community, and the party with the policies that best reflect your values. You may find that the person who best represents you isn’t standing for a party you traditionally support. Or perhaps the person you’re likely to vote for in an independent. Or it may be a person who is unlikely to win that seat.
Our voting system tends toward two horse races and makes it harder – but not impossible – for smaller parties and independent candidates to win a seat. I’ll be the first to admit that it always feels better to be on the winning team. And if the person you want to vote for is unlikely to win, voting can seem pointless.
However, it’s important that we don’t sacrifice the values that are important to us in favour of backing the winning team. The very act of voting and declaring where you stand is essential. It all boils down to choosing someone who will represent you well in your community and in Westminster and lines the closest with your values.
Voting, as in life, isn’t black and white, but rather a trendy shade of grey, reflecting the complexities and messiness of life. Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but you’ll never find a perfect political party or candidate. Much like church, friends, spouses, jobs and so many other things in life, compromise will be necessary.
In order to show up and have your say it’s crucial that you register to vote. Today is voter registration day, which aims to get as many people as possible to register to vote in the upcoming election on 7, May 2015. So join us, and head online to register or update your details here.
We all have a valuable part to play in politics. And it starts with voting. So let’s embrace the grey and get involved with shaping our nation.
Find out more about the Show Up campaign which calls for Christians to engage more positively in politics at the Evangelical Alliance’s dedicated election website.