Why go vote if we have the impression that no candidacy represents us? What if, in addition, the result of the elections is not going to depend on our individual vote? For those who have these doubts, mathematics offers answers that can help them decide whether to vote or abstain.
From the moment that the candidates that appear in the elections are not a representative sample of the general population, it is inevitable that a part of the population does not feel represented. Of course, the candidates can proclaim that, if they govern, they will defend the interests of all. But this does not mean that everyone thinks that their interests will be defended.
If we look at age, and take the seven candidates for mayor of Barcelona who participated in the Betevé debate as an example, the age range goes from 49 to 80 years. Curiously, the age groups that show the least intention to vote are those from 18 to 35 years old, according to the CIS Barometer of April 2023.
If we look at the neighborhood where they grew up, the districts of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Eixample and Horta-Guinardó are represented. It is not the districts of lower socio-economic level such as Nou Barris, Sant Martí, Sants-Montjuïc and Ciutat Vella.
If we look at the educational level, they all went to university and three of the seven have law degrees.
If we add to all this that to be head of the list it is convenient to have been successful in a political career, and that leadership is an exception rather than a rule, both in politics and in society as a whole, the candidates are necessarily part of an elite.
With these candidate profiles, it is difficult for a majority of the population to feel well represented.
But not voting for anyone, which is equivalent to voting against everyone equally, is also equivalent to voting in favor of everyone equally. Abstaining, from a mathematical point of view, is the same as distributing the vote equally among all the candidates.
In the case of Barcelona, if we consider the seven candidacies that according to the surveys have options to obtain representation, the voters who abstain will be granting a seventh part of their vote to Vox, a seventh part to the CUP, and so on.
And even if they think that neither party represents them, they probably think that some represent them less than others. So, in order not to grant a part of your vote to those who generate the most rejection, the solution would be to vote for one of those who you consider to be more tolerable.
Abstaining is different from voting blank, points out electoral analyst Carles Castro. Since a party must get at least 5% of the votes cast to get representation, the fewer people who vote, the fewer votes it takes to get to 5%. This favors minority parties that cannot hope for large numbers of votes but do have a convinced fan base. In the case of Barcelona, abstention favors Vox and the CUP. If more people turn out to vote, even if they vote blank, the number of votes needed to reach 5% increases, favoring major parties whose potential voters are less motivated.
So neither abstaining nor voting blank are neutral decisions. Although we do not intend it, if we abstain we are favoring some parties and if we vote blank we are favoring others. They are actions with consequences just like voting for a party.
The cases in which an electoral result depends on a single vote are exceptional. Therefore, if any of the citizens who can go to vote abstains, the result of the elections will be the same. But if there are many citizens who are not going to vote thinking that their vote does not matter, the result will no longer be the same.
The reason is that abstention is not shared proportionally between the parties. It hurts more those parties whose potential voters are less motivated to vote. And it has consequences for those groups that, precisely because they abstain from voting, are less represented in government institutions. Which can create a vicious anti-systemic circle: if I don't vote, they don't represent me; If they don't represent me, I don't vote.
The situation is reminiscent of what happens with vaccines, which obeys the so-called law of large numbers. If a single person refrains from getting vaccinated, a virus such as measles will not circulate and this person will be protected, so they will not be infected even if they have not been vaccinated. But if a large sector of the population has not been vaccinated, the virus will be able to circulate and the probability that a person will become infected will increase, especially if they have not been vaccinated.
In the case of politics, those who vote the least are the youngest age groups. When citizens are asked if they would go to vote in the event that general elections were held the next day, more than 70% say that they would "certainly" in all age groups over 35, according to the CIS Barometer of the month of April. But in the group from 25 to 34 years the percentage drops to 65.7% and in the group from 18 to 24 it falls to 56.4%.