It’s been a chaotic year for elections, with the micro-state of Liechtenstein taking us of with their presidential election back on the 5th of February, we’ve so far seen elections within the UK, France &South Korea and will see elections further elections this year in; Germany, & Chile. Elections are a time in many countries where citizens can sometimes be heard the loudest. We get to have a say on the direction of our countries and to seek to have issues addressed that concern us most.
But what are elections without a strong, robust turnout? They tend to lead to stagnation in public discourse and result in little change – and as with many elections that feature corruption as a prominent issue its time to take a look at how corruption can influence an election – or more specifically how it affects turnout. We will look at whether politicizing corruption negatively or positively affects voter turnout (with a little help from the folks at The Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg)
What may seem unsurprising to many is that countries that have higher perceived levels of corruption are associated with lower voter turnout – we’ve all heard the mantra, “why vote – nothing will change” people who feel a sense of exasperation and despondency with a system are unlikely to want to or feel respected enough to engage with it’s institutions. This thread is common enough in terms of how we approach corruption as a topic, an issue that is deeply rooted in power imbalances within a state or society, for example it is unlikely that the institutions built through that power structure will challenge it with any integrity.
This lack of engagement with politics and democracy is corrosive, it’s impact on political systems results in increasingly cynical, distrustful and apathetic voters. Those who promise to shake up this system embolden the sense that politics is a rigged game that needs rattling. If left untreated by practical policy solutions and left unaddressed in political campaigns its effect can be increasingly damaging. We can see this with examples from around the world with regards to outsiders challenging a system and their being outside the system serving as a strong pull factor for citizens to engage with their platform.
However, within the research conducted by the team at the Quality of Government Institute in Gothenburg there shines a positive light for many anti-corruption activists, that a high perception of corruption can actually be used to strengthen democracies, if parties are willing to engage substantively with the issues which concerns voters – it can actually increase people’s willingness to participate in elections.
The issue of corruption being dealt within in the public sphere by policymakers is vital, not only due to reasons of self-preservation relating to capitalising on disenfranchised voters, but because the alternative of voters being ignored or sidelined on dealing with corruption has a corrosive effect on democracy and democratic participation that’s effects are felt when authoritarians capitalise on the issue of using corruption to acquire power – we need real engagement and real solutions to deal with corruption being presented to allow democracy’s to flourish.
What do you think?