Why is it necessary to go to vote if we have the impression that no candidate represents us? What if, in addition, the outcome of the election does not depend on our individual vote? For those with such doubts, mathematics offers answers that can help them decide whether to vote or abstain.
From the moment that the candidates who stand 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. Candidates can proclaim that, if they govern, they will defend everyone's interests. But this does not mean that everyone thinks that their interests will be defended.
If we look at age, and take as an example the seven candidates for Barcelona mayor who participated in the Betevé debate, the age range goes from 49 to 80 years. Interestingly, the age groups that show the least intention to vote are those aged 18 to 35, 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 there. The districts of the lowest socio-economic level such as Nou Barris, Sant Martí, Sants-Montjuïc and Ciutat Vella are not.
If we look at the level of education, all have gone to university and three of the seven have degrees in Law.
If we add to all this that to be head of the list it is necessary to have been successful in the 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 for everyone equally. Abstaining, from a mathematical point of view, is the same as distributing the vote equally between all the candidates.
In the case of Barcelona, if we consider the seven candidacies that according to the polls have options to obtain representation, the voters who abstain will give a seventh part of their vote to Vox, a seventh part to the CUP, and so on.
And even if they think that no party represents them, they probably think that some represent them less than others. So, in order not to grant part of their vote to those who generate the most rejection, the solution would be to vote for one of those they consider more tolerable.
Abstaining is different from voting blank, points out electoral analyst Carles Castro. Since a party must obtain at least 5% of the votes cast to gain representation, the fewer people who go to vote, the fewer votes are needed to reach 5%. This favors minority parties that cannot aspire to a large number of votes but have a committed base of supporters. In the case of Barcelona, abstention favors Vox and the CUP. If more people vote, even if they vote blank, the number of votes needed to reach 5% increases, which favors the majority parties, who have more potential but less motivated voters.
In short, neither abstention nor blank voting are neutral decisions. Even if we don't intend to, if we abstain we favor some parties and if we vote blank we favor others. These are actions with consequences just like voting for a party.
There are exceptional cases in which an electoral result depends on a single vote. 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 do not vote thinking that their vote does not matter, the result will no longer be the same.
The reason is that the abstention is not distributed proportionally between the parties. It hurts parties more whose potential voters are less motivated to go to the polls. And it has consequences for those groups that, precisely because they refrain from going to the polls, are less represented in government institutions. This can end up creating an anti-systemic vicious circle: if I don't vote, I'm not represented; if they don't represent me, I don't vote.
The situation is reminiscent of what happens with vaccines, which obey the so-called law of large numbers. If a single person refrains from getting vaccinated, a virus like measles will not circulate and that person will be protected, so they will not get infected even if they have not been vaccinated. But if a large sector of the population is not 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 immunized.
In the case of politics, those who vote the least are the younger age groups. When citizens are asked if they would go to vote if general elections were held the next day, more than 70% say "with all certainty" in all age groups over 35, according to the barometer of the April CIS. But in the 25 to 34-year-old group, the percentage drops to 65.7% and in the 18- to 24-year-old group, it drops to 56.4%.