What is a conditional voter registration

Representation in the Crisis?

In addition to the growing share of the votes of right-wing and left-wing populist protest parties, low or declining voter turnouts are the most important evidence that representative democracy is in a crisis. In Germany, participation in federal elections, which had reached record levels of over 90 percent in the 1970s, has recently fallen to a good 70 percent. This corresponds to a general European trend from which only a few countries are excluded - such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Spain. The Federal Republic also mirrors the development in a West-East comparison, in that the new Central Eastern European democracies and new federal states are disproportionately affected by abstinence from voting.

What does this mean for the quality of the representative party democracies? In order to receive answers, we must first be aware that the absolute level of voter turnout, as well as its development over time, depends on numerous factors and reflects different things: "voter apathy or voter satisfaction, compulsory voting or voluntary voting, maybe even the weather on election day, or even mere acclamation. "[1] To isolate these factors from one another and to determine their respective weight raises practically insoluble problems in research practice. This is especially true as they differ significantly depending on the country and the type of elections (such as main and subsidiary elections). [2]

In order to adequately consider the problem of declining voter turnout, three differentiations or relativizations are made below, which in turn form the basis for the reform considerations at the end.

Representativeness of choice and non-choice

The first differentiation concerns the absolute level of voter turnout. This gains its significance from the point of view of legitimation through the majority principle that applies to elections and votes, which is particularly important when forming a government majority. The lower the turnout, the lower the proportion of votes that the elected government can actually rely on. The problem is exacerbated if, due to a disproportionate electoral system, inferior votes are wholly or partially neglected, i.e. are not taken into account when a mandate is won. The ruling majority may then only be a numerically small minority. In voting, the problem can be alleviated by requiring a minimum participation or approval. In the case of elections, which, unlike voting, are a compulsory and not just an optional component of representative democracy, this option does not exist. [3] That is why the proposal, often formulated by so-called party critics, to link the number of mandates to be awarded to the voter turnout is absurd.

For the democratic assessment of voter turnout, in addition to its absolute level, its representativeness is also important. Following the political scientist Hanna Pitkin, this can be understood on the one hand to mean social representativeness: i.e. the fact that the actual voters have a similar composition to those entitled to vote in terms of characteristics such as age, gender, education and income. On the other hand, it is about the interests, wishes and needs of the electorate that can be derived from this, that is to say about their (party) political preferences. [4] The degree of orientation of the representatives to these preferences is called "responsiveness" in democracy research. In addition, those parts of the population who do not have the right to vote due to their voting age or citizenship are also to be considered as objects of representation, in the broader sense even members of other nations and future generations.

With regard to the composition of the parliamentary representative bodies, the lack of social representativeness is not a fundamental problem; especially when it comes to education, it turns out to be an advantage, because who wants to be ruled by fools? However, we, or at least most of us, would just as well agree to the demand that the social composition of the representatives should not diverge too far from that of the electorate. Even if the members of parliament's socio-structural affiliation cannot be directly linked to their political positions, they are not entirely unaffected by it. The increasing social selectivity of voter participation, which authors like the political scientist Armin Schäfer have impressively demonstrated for the Federal Republic since the 1990s, threatens to exacerbate this problem. [5] Because social selectivity removes the interests of the voters from those of the electorate and the rest of the population, with a high degree of probability it also removes the politics of the representatives from them. The result is a self-reinforcing process: If voters from the disadvantaged classes stay away from the elections, they can no longer count on their interests being represented by parties and politicians. And if parties and politicians do not represent their interests, these voters have even less reason to vote in the elections.

Elections are and will remain the most important form of participation in which the political equality of citizens manifests itself. The universal and equal right to vote therefore becomes a farce if the disadvantaged groups in society do not make use of it and increasingly stay away from the elections. Admittedly, there is no evidence that the problem is exacerbated by the expansion and use of other forms of participation (e.g. in the area of ​​direct democracy): the disadvantaged do not stay away from elections in even greater numbers because those interested in politics from the better-off classes receive such participation offers perceive. Nevertheless, it is surprising how little political science has paid attention to this problem so far, while paying widespread attention to the new models of participation. [6]

Even if it is worthwhile to think about improving the institutional incentive structures, it will not be possible to bring voters who have fallen into resignation back into the political system primarily through reforms of the electoral law or electoral system. Even compulsory voting would not change the causes of the social division. What is needed instead is an agenda that counteracts this division through more equal opportunities by improving integration into the labor market and investing more in education, childcare and health care. [7] The Scandinavian example shows the importance of a renewed welfare state for social cohesion. This is especially true under the conditions of globalization. The more the economies open up to the outside world, the more important education and training become in order to prepare for competition, but also the protection against the internal risks arising from competition. If politics does not succeed in imparting this security to people or in giving it back, then the crisis of participation cannot be resolved either.