Thursday, September 05, 2013

How Australia compares on the basis of voter participation and invalid (donkey) votes

We hear a great deal about the number of people in Australia that are of voting age, but haven't registered to vote, however we don't hear a lot about how Australia compares to the rest of the world in this regard.

I sought out some data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) to compare Australia with the rest of the world, to see how well we had been doing in electoral participation - which provides some indication of how engaged citizens are with government.

IDEA has data on national elections since 1945 for about 235 countries. This is available online as tables (such as this one) as well as downloadable custom files (through this interface) and great quick snapshots - though there's no datafeeds or APIs available.

As such it took only a short time for me to download the data, plug it into a Google Fusion table and produce the below map and charts.

This shows that Australia is amongst the roughly 18% of nations which have compulsory voting for their parliaments.

Australia also compares well in terms of voter turnout, sitting close to the top of the list (6th as below - mouseover the graph for details) based on the latest election results (looking at the period from 2009-2013), despite being one of our lowest turnouts since World War II.

Our invalid voting rate has been creeping up, particularly since 1984, and is now amongst the top 30 in the world in their last election (looking at the period from 2009-2013) - see close to far right on the chart below. This indicates a growing disillusionment with existing political parties, but hardly one which is fatal to our system.

Finally, below is a view of the entire world based on voter turnout in their last election (looking at the period from 2009-2013) - click on the coloured dots for a run-down of the voting statistics for each country, based on their latest parliamentary elections.
(larger version here)

Based on this data Australia remains a highly politically engaged state, although we've been in decline for around 30 years.

It would be nice to see Australian governments turn around this trend, reversing the decline in engaged voters and improving civic participation at all levels.

Certainly there's lots of good effort underway to engage citizens more actively in government, although this may be being undermined by increasing disillusionment with the way politics is being played.

The answer might be a rethink of politics, rather than a rethink of government - although this would need to be driven by some very courageous politicians.

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