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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Low turnout: Is apathy winning?
Are political parties and the media failing to stem the tide of apathy which has been blighting elections?

Labour retained the Livingston and Cathcart seats in by-elections on Thursday but in both cases turnout plummeted.

At just under 32% in Cathcart, turnout hit a record low for a by-election in Scotland and there was a fall of almost 20 percentage points in Livingston.

We asked why you thought so few cast their votes. Did the electorate just choose to ignore two by-elections were pundits predicted safe wins for Labour?

The following reflects the balance of opinions we received.

How can people say their vote is wasted in an area where a particular party dominates? Do the maths! With turnouts as low as 32%, if the 68% majority who didn't bother had turned out, you might well have seen a completely different result - obvious isn't it. Use your vote or don't moan at the results!
Caroline, London, UK

The people here in Scotland probably think that no matter what they vote it will not have any affect. Face it ... Scotland has not much to say and will never be able to do things their own way as they always have to listen to what Westminster has to say.
Sandra, Fort William, Scotland

Since many men and especially women died so that every adult in this country has the right to vote then it is appalling that so many chose not to do so. If you don't like what's happening then vote to change it. Not voting ensures that policies will not change and you will definitely not be happy with the result.
Sheila, East Lothian

Not voting is not apathy but the only way we can express our contempt for politicians.
John, London

I didn't vote because I have recently moved house (away from my parents who did vote) and even though I have told all the authorities I still received a polling card! Does this mean if this was the General Election I would have had two votes? No wonder people don't turn out, no faith in the system whatsoever.
F J G, Livingston

Looks like 'None of the Above' could win the next election
Elaine, Letchworth Garden City UK

When you see how politicians treat octogenarian lifelong members of their party, does anyone really think they are prepared to listen to ANYONE? Iraq, NHS, trains, ID cards, council tax, tax credits, the list goes on.....
Adrian, UK

I always try and vote. Depressingly, though, it's always a case of trying to pick the least incompetent, profligate and unrepresentative idiot on the ballot paper.
Nick Scott, Edinburgh, Scotland

The media have to take the lion's share of the blame for the electoral apathy. A day never goes by without at least a handful of stories criticising all levels of government, often focussing on alleged incompetence, lack of interest, corruption, malpractice or failing to represent the electorate. These things do happen, but the impression is given that failings are widespread, permanent and getting worse.
Phil Baker, Bromsgrove, Worcs

I'll tell you why I (and many others) don't bother voting, what's the point when the supposed candidate/party go back on any promises and do exactly what they want - Iraq for instance!
marc, glasgow

People should have to sit an exam, requiring a basic level of political understanding, to qualify for the vote. Those who can't be bothered to learn what an election is all about shouldn't be able to vote in the first place.
Rick Eling, London, England

It's the way they go about it, no honesty. Take all the fake smiles for example, is Gordon Brown really a happy man? I think not. It's all about getting into power, after that it doesn't matter for another five years, then when the election comes round again it's back to the fake smiles and pictures with children. I hate it and refuse to vote.
Daniel Coldrick, Portsmouth Hants

There was a story on the television last night which proved that MPs hardly ever vote against their party. In other words MPs don't represent their constituencies at all, they represent their parties. Even when they do vote against their party they often end up in trouble. If they truly represented their constituencies then the office of the party whip would be illegal. We therefore need to change the electoral system to ensure that the make up of the House of Commons is representative of the country as a whole. Either that or have an elected House of Lords.
David, Aberdeen

Wake up pensioners and use your vote!! If you don't then you risk having to endure a miserable future existing on a fixed income but paying Council Taxes which are rising to rent level and are fast becoming a tax on age!
Silvia, Devizes Wiltshire

The public at large have lost respect for politicians in general. Too much spin, economies of truth and outright lies lead people to conclude that they are all as bad as each other so it doesn't matter who is elected. None of them honour all their election promises and quite often do exactly the opposite to what they originally proposed. The country needs another Thatcher, I didn't agree with a lot of her policies but at least you got a straight answer to a straight question!
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England

Bring on PR so votes aren't wasted. I've lived in four different constituencies since I've been eligible to vote in 1977. In all the elections since, none has ever changed hands at an election (three are Tory, one Labour). What's the point of my vote, or anyone's for that matter, in the 75% of seats that are "safe" for one or other party. Bring in PR so that all votes truly count wherever you live and I'm sure more people would vote.
Gerald Davies, Wales

With MPs, MSPs, MEPs and local councillors all looking for our votes so they can run our country, can anyone tell me who actually runs Scotland? When I know for sure I can then vote at the next meaningful election.
Mike, Aberdeenshire

Moan, moan, moan, moan, moan. All we do is moan in this country. Perhaps if we got off our backsides and did something about it, we might find things would change. Stop looking for a quick fix - work for it!
mtc, Livingston

Why vote at all? We are now governed by a combination of an unelected group at the EC and a group of unelected but very powerful civil servants and other people 'in high places'.
Andy, UK

Making voting compulsory is an absurd idea. It is totally undemocratic and removes the freedom of choice from the whole process. I do, however, think that there has to be a complete overhaul of our electoral system. More people would be inclined to vote if we had a true system of PR in place.
K kirkpatrick, Stirling

I'll vote again when the slip includes the option to tick 'None of the above establishment lackeys'. It doesn't help when the media (including the BBC) will no longer ask politicians genuinely challenging questions, and hound the small number of genuinely concerned politicians for rocking the establishment boat. Democracy is just a game laid on by the rich and powerful to distract the rest of us from running our own lives.
Dave, Cheshire, UK

To my mind the real cause is that people are becoming increasingly lazy and unwilling to take on any responsibility. People are happy to sit back and moan and blame anyone you care to name, whereas getting off their backsides, taking a bit of social responsibility and taking part in civic matters is too much like hard work and is completely unfashionable these days!
Domhnall Dods, Livingston, West Lothian

The reason turnout is plummeting at elections in this country is that the Labour Party could put a monkey in a suit with a red rosette and it would win an election. If we had a real choice and a bit of real competition the people would turn out. The opposition parties must raise their game and a PR system would better reflect the will of the people. Unfortunately that won't happen due to vested interests of the big two at Westminster
steven sloan, fife

Why bother, the names and faces change at the top, tax goes up, services get worse.... Until we have a PR system where no single part dominates government policy, we won't get any practical policies to help the voter.
Brian, Edinburgh

Westminster is failing us. Holyrood is failing us. Our politicians are failing us and our electoral system is failing us. Less than 17% of Livingston's electorate voted for Labour's Jim Divine. More people voted against him than for him! We preach democracy to the rest of the world, yet it crumbles around our feet at home. Politicians need to wake up and serve the needs of the people rather than their careers.
Campbell Robertson, Motherwell

I saw a Panorama episode where people in the street were ask to match the party with the policy statement. It became clear that the average voter could not see any difference because the three main parties as they are all fighting for the middle ground. So there does not appear to be any difference to choose between. Then if they do decide to vote against the incumbent party in their own constituency, the first past the post system will ensure their vote is effectively wasted. Until there is electoral reform, this apathetic trend will continue.
David Reilly, Loughborough, England

The day a candidate bothers to get off his behind and canvas me is the day I will vote for one of them. Until then I will continue (as I have since 1988) to spoil my paper at every election.
Jason, Borders, Scotland

Look at the candidates in this by-election. Did any of them inspire you? Would you cross a room to talk to any of them? Until we attract plausible, likeable and visionary people to politics, turnouts will be low.
Thom, Edinburgh, Scotland

A vote is a very dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Can anyone truly claim to know that the party they vote for will not make a mess of things? Is anyone that clever? It's a gamble. Do you feel lucky? Quite often I don't.
Dave Martin, Edinburgh, UK

I have voted in every election that I've been eligible for since 1987 and have never seen anyone I voted for getting into power. Hardly a ringing endorsement for our version of democracy.
Arthur, Edinburgh, Scotland

I last saw an election candidate, parliamentary or local council, out canvassing in 1983. If the candidates can't be bothered to get out there and be heard, how can they possibly expect the electorate to care. Many people think that voting should be mandatory. If this is the case then door to door canvassing by all candidates should also be mandatory. Voting is a constitutional right, not an obligation. Make voting compulsory and we will see the first Monster Raving Looney Government in this country. (Well the first one actually called Monster Raving Looney anyway).
Tom Speirs, Stirling, Scotland

Who cares?
Roger Todd, London, UK

So few people cast there vote because it makes no difference. We are living in a dictatorship, we have no freedom of speech, and we are not able to do anything about it. The politicians are not interested in what the public think, all they think about is there own well being.
craig, st andrews

When turnout is less than 50% the people are voting for no representation so no MP should be elected. It should be job of all would be MPs or MSPs to convince them of the need to elect an MP. If they fail to do that then don't deserve a job at our expense.
Dick, Aberdeenshire

People do not vote because they are sick of unaccountable politicians looking after their own interests rather than those of the people that elected them. While this is understandable it is very dangerous for the nation, low turnouts enable non-representative governments to impose their sinister agendas on us. Sound familiar?
Chris, UK

When the government wins only around 36% of the votes across the country yet still gets a thumping great big majority in parliament, it is surely proof that the system does not represent the views of the people. Add to that politicians with their own agendas, intent on lecturing us about what is good for us, and you have the current losing formula. PR has to be the way to go - but I can't see anyone in power ever implementing it.
Helen Belcher, Wokingham

People have lost faith in first past the post. Let's have a referendum on proportional representation - let the people decide how it's parliament should be constructed - not the MPs.
David P, Edinburgh, UK

I have always voted Labour man and boy since 1978, but New Labour have not had my vote, I for one cannot decide between Mr Howard's Tories and Mr Blair's Tories. I now vote Liberal Democrat not out of conviction but to not vote would be an affront to those who died to get us the vote.

Is apathy winning? .... who cares??
Zutch Boer-Dohm, St. Albans UK

I believe that a single issue underpins low turnout: our population has no appetite at all for social change. There are no great class divisions, no hunger-marches, no spirit of social revolt within our fat complacent youth and all save the poorest in our society have access to cars, mobile phones, computers and Sky Television. Our population has the government it thoroughly deserves, and sees little reason for change.
Philip, Westcliff-on-Sea, U.K.

One possible answer is to allow electors to have an impact on government policy by having more referendums on individual policies. So far these have only tended to have been held or promised for party political reasons. There needs to be a mechanism for holding referendums on specific issues as part of the election process, and the government should be held to account if it ignores the results.
Ken Ricketts, Wokingham, UK

The problem is that the candidates stand for parties that are so similar, and mostly simply toe the party line that there seems little point. The alternatives are often single issue or just weird. We need men and women who may align themselves generally with a particular party but who will stand up for their constituents if that party wants to enact law ill suited to those constituents. Also who have personal beliefs that they will stand up for, even if unpopular.
Richard, UK

I actually voted in the Livingston by-election, but believe that it is vital to do so. The election material put out by the major parties was (to all intents and purposes) identical. Full of half-truths, exaggerations and over ambitious claims. If I wasn't for my belief in the necessity of voting, I would have been tempted to not vote as well!
Alistair Thomas, Broxburn, Scotland

If you live in an area that is a stronghold which you don't agree with your one vote won't make a difference. Saying that I vote for the principle and the "you never know" factor, but every vote doesn't necessarily count.
Laura, Kent, UK

The real reason is do as I say not as I do. Politicians are seen as fat cats, huge expenses, exceptional pensions, don't have to pay council tax on official residence, exempt from company car tax rules etc etc. This is an epidemic of society today which is increasingly look after number one first, and politicians are only doing what most people in their position would do. This is only going to get worse as apathy and lack of respect and trust for politicians increases.
John, Glasgow

These days there isn't even a decent party to use for a protest vote, something like "None of the Above" would be nice just to register dissatisfaction. Considering the cost of an election maybe it shouldn't lead to a hung parliament but it would be a lovely tool to prevent people from claiming a "mandate of the people" when it is just apathy that gets them in.
Andy, UK

It is difficult to visualise voter apathy doing anything other than worsening. The level of political debate is reduced to little more than sound bites, Prime Ministers Question Time resembles a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and all the major party's machinery ruthlessly suppresses any form of dissent from its members. The majority of the popular press is in the hands of vested interests and pursues their own political agenda. The problem is that the whole political apparatus has become so self-serving that it has failed to notice the increasing sophistication of its electorate. They can increasingly see through the sham put out by smooth party apparatchiks, and they are fed up of it.
Paul, Coleford, UK.

When the people feel disenfranchised, knowing that no matter what they do or say they will make no difference to the bad politics blighting their lives, they will indeed vote with their feet - by putting them up at home.
Jim, Birmingham, UK

The main reason is spin. There is no accountability or responsibility for politicians. David Blunkett broke the rules and abused his position and yet has been re-admitted to government because Blair likes him. This is unacceptable. Voters know that politicians' promises mean nothing and so they feel it doesn't matter who is in power.
Andrew Hadley, London

Proportional representation is the only way to get people involved in politics. We all want our vote to count and at present it simply doesn't.
Valerie Maher, Oxford, England

It's not apathy it's alienation. Then when you do decide to vote, none of them do what you voted them to do. I do vote every time but it never does me any good.
Adam, London

I have always been taught by my parent how important it is to have my say in the elections and have voted in every election there has been since turning 18. But as Livingston council messed up both my sister and my own postal vote for the by-election, we did not get the chance to have our say. How many others will of had this problem?! Could these votes of made a difference, probably not. But it has not set a very good example to me, age 19, that I do not even get a say in the election. It makes me think why should I even bother with it as my vote probably does not matter or make a difference. I just hope Jim Devine does as good a job as Mr Cook, even though I would not of voted for him myself!! I also think that voting should be compulsory and fines given out for people who do not vote.
Jennifer Browning, Livingston, Scotland

Apathy is only winning because the political parties are failing to capture the hearts and minds of the general public. What's absurd is that they are allowed to carry on regardless of the turnout - it is not Joe Public's fault that the centre ground is so muddled and the political candidates so weak. A no vote is a vote of no confidence and it should count against the parties standing - that is true democracy. Instead we're left with a serious lack of quality and very patronising speeches to a fictitious illiterate voter.
Bryan, Glasgow, UK

I know why I don't normally vote - because of the electoral system we have. I live in a Labour seat with a massive majority. My vote may as well go in the dustbin because it will have no effect whatsoever on the final composition of parliament. Yes, once every 5 years I have the chance to voice my opinion, but effectively my voice is ignored. Bring in PR and I will vote again.
David Poulet, Sunderland, UK

Apathy in the local party offices does not help! In the General Election, the first time I knew there was a Lib Dem candidate was when I saw the ballot paper. If the politically active cannot be bothered, is it surprising that the masses are not?
Ellis Birt, Worcester, England

Myself, I feel powerless to prevent politicians from implementing draconian policies (Blair's "summary justice" is a real case in point). I still vote, but as I'm always out voted by less than 50% of the other people in my constituency my voice is never heard. We desperately need a fairer voting system - single-transferable vote would work well I think: since everyone appears to vote tactically anyway this would just recognise and formalise the tactical voting process. Why should people bother voting now when they can (and generally will) be overruled by a minority of the people around them? No-one should be elected to parliament without at least 50% of their constituents approval (I'd actually prefer a higher percentage but that might prove unworkable..)
Keith, Whitstable, UK

Of course people are apathetic. You vote these politicians into power so they can be your voice in Westminster and then the majority of them blindly follow their party line rather than representing their constituents views. Is it any surprise the electorate are turning away form the polling booth. The majority don't want ID cards, our troops in Iraq or a privatised NHS but what we think is not put forward by our so called representatives.
Mr Cant be Bothered , Hastings, East Sussex

What is the point in voting when all the available choices are the same kind dishonest power-hungry lawyers who will be just as unable to deliver on their promises as the incumbents? Even if you do believe their pre-election pledges there is little to choose between them in practical terms anyway. There is no serious discussion of issues and all the decisions are made behind closed doors. The only way that I would vote would be if there was a "none of the above" option on the form.
Richard Read, London, UK

People feel that there isn't any difference between parties now, so it doesn't matter who wins
Norrie, Angus

Lack of proportional representation in this country is going to lead to lower and lower turnouts. If your vote is ignored due to the system why bother? None of the major parties will ever change the system as they benefit from it. So in short we have no real democracy.

Apathy has won the day. I am from Glasgow and have friends who live in Cathcart - they do not vote because they think that politicians are a waste of time. This was clearly demonstrated when after winning the Cathcart seat, Charlie Gordon did not exclaim his happiness that the people had put their trust in him nor did not say he would do his best to better their causes. He made a huge deal out of boasting that given the circumstances of this by-election (previous Labour MP and peer being jailed for arson), the SNP had missed an open goal! He's more interested in slagging other candidates and he's not even had the chance to take his jacket off. I feel embarrassed for him. Apathy will always win in these circumstances, in fact, with this statement, he's paved the way for the future of apathy.
Martin, Edinburgh

People don't feel inclined to vote in safe seats as they feel their vote is wasted. This isn't the media's fault at all - some sort of proportional representation would redress this effective disenfranchisement so that even if people vote for a party that doesn't stand a chance of forming a government, at least they'll have some kind of representation.
Mark Dance, Suffolk, England

Politics and political parties are now seen in the same light as footballers and media stars. They are overpaid and far removed from the reality of the daily lives of the population of the UK. They do not represent the real issues affecting people as they are more worried about scoring petty playground points of each other or they are promoting their own interests.
Bill Cameron, Glasgow

I think that the electorate is merely disillusioned with today's politicians. They rarely deliver what they promise and our government seems rather more busy on the world stage than they are sorting out their problems at home. Democracy doesn't enter into the equation when the outcome will still be broken promises.
Paul, Dundee, Scotland

The electorate are fed up with the style of modern politicians and the adversarial nature of those that interview them. Politicians need to answer straight questions with straight answers and not just avoid upsetting the spin doctors
Peter Kehoe, Slough Berkshire

Unfortunately, there is no democracy in a country that effectively only has one political party, since the views and policies of Labour and the Conservatives are so similar, there is no real choice. The Lib-Dems have been very wishy-washy and failed to provide real confidence, so we are no longer a democracy and judging by the amount of spin involved in all major political issues, we're heading towards a totalitarian regime.
Clive My, London

It is the "first past the post" system which needs changing. I would feel that my vote was worth something if we had proportional representation.
S Maddocks, Worcester. uk

Have the parties ever thought their policies don't appeal to the majority of the population? And why should people be forced to vote for a party they don't support/believe in? A simpler and cost effective way would be to add on a voting slip (I do not vote for any of the above candidates/parties) this would give the people a choice to show the political parties that they are way out of touch with the population. If the majority of the votes showed no support for the parties in the case of a general election then a hung government should be formed and the election re-run. Only then will the MPs start to put the people they are supposed to represent first and not their own interests.
David MacLean

People do not feel that they have a choice because there is so little to choose between the parties.
Dan, UK

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