Is voter turnout a problem?

Voter turnout has been trending down for decades. Is this a problem? Or should we not care about people who don’t care about voting, and just work on having better informed people who have an interest in voting?

The Opportunities Party has just released policy on democracy – The Opportunities Party – Democracy Reset – and has a detailed look at voter turnout data.

1. The Data



Fewer and fewer people have confidence in our democracy. They simply don’t see voting as something that impacts on their lives. This is illustrated by the voter turnout.

In addition there’s a difference in the enthusiasm to vote between the age groups. The babyboomers are the most enthusiastic voters. In the 2014 election, 85% of eligible Baby Boomers or older voted (81% of that total cohort).

But for those under 50, only 70% of registered (or 51% of that total cohort) voted and it gets a lot lower for those under 30. For this cohort – weighed down by student debt and the prohibitive cost of getting on the first rung of the property ladder – only 62% of the registered (45% of the number of under 30’s) bothered to vote.

This alienation from the democratic process is not just a New Zealand phenomenon – right across the Western World, people are increasingly frustrated that their democracies are not serving them. There is even a significant difference in opinion on the value of keeping democracy between young and old. In the US 43% of oldies see it as illegitimate for the military to take over if the government is incompetent, yet only 19% of millennials feel like that. And in Europe the numbers were 53% and 36% respectively. The generation divide – wherein younger ones feel our so-called “democratic” government is not serving their interests – is stark.

Such a dichotomy between young and old can be seen from the following graph.

Percentage of people (identified by birth year) who believe it is “essential” to live in a democracy


In our view there are three issues to address;

  1. the absence of an independent body that holds the government of the day to account on long term issues
  2. not enough empowerment of communities and direct participation for voters
  3. the lack of a well articulated and widely valued Constitution that makes it clear what all New Zealanders’ rights are


  1. PDB

     /  February 7, 2017

    The ‘three issues’ mentioned will do nothing to get the people who can’t be bothered voting to vote – all are just excuses to chuck more bureaucracy into the system that is already unappealing to these people. An ‘Independent body’ – good luck with finding people for that…..

    Free money would be the only way to get them to turn up to the polling booth but we shouldn’t go there.

    • Why not PDB? Seriously …

      People get ‘rewarded’ in all sorts of ways nowadays for doing online and telephone surveys and such …

      The very fact of being ‘chosen’ to be part of a survey might be seen as a form of reward in some cases …

      To what extent does this disrupt or negate the honesty of choices or answers?
      And elections are a fairly simple form of quiz really, aren’t they?

      Perhaps this is the way to introduce a Peoples’ Dividend?
      Make it conditional upon casting a vote in general & local body elections?

      It would need guaranteed [and widely publicized) unanimous support in Parliament including that it would never become a political football? Heck, it could be part of our new Constitution!?

      Might be the start of removing a bunch of issues from Political Football status?

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 7, 2017

    It would be interesting to see the age pattern for a more/less government question.

    • And more/less government exactly WHERE within government too Alan?

      In fact, I don’t think you could have one without the other …

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 7, 2017

        Drilling down would be informative, but so would the overview question. At the moment we don’t get to first base with understanding the issue. We are just speculating.

  3. I have some reservations about the information used to produce the graph on Essential to Live in a Democracy. No source appears to have been given and both “Essential” and “Democracy” are loaded words that can mean many things to different people. I also wonder about the 57% of Baby Boomers and the 81% of Millennials that, by inference, accept a Military takeover from an incompetent Government. The Military represent a segment of society that is organised and trained, subject to discipline and a different set of additional laws and regulations as well as civil law, but they are all sworn citizens of the Nation State, and are not trained to Govern except by Military Governance. I very much doubt people would volunteer to be subject to Military Governance, but I could be wrong.

  4. The counter culture of the 60’s comes home to rest not in the generation that spawned it but on the next generations sucked in by the “don’t trust the man” message.

  5. Bob

     /  February 7, 2017

    I have no problem with a low voter turnout, if someone cant be arsed to vote then tough, it’s not hard to get to a voting booth, people have to be responsible at some stage for their actions, the ‘goverment’ cannot fix everything, nor should it.