Alexander Haslam is Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology, and Laureate Fellow at the University Queensland.
His work is specialised research in ‘Group Processes’ and ‘How Groups Work’.
In his recent interview on 630 CHAD while visiting Alberta, as a Key Note speaker for the www.CIFAR.ca Change Makers conference. Haslam’s interpretation of an Edmonton Oilers fan, throwing their own Edmonton Oilers shirt on the ice at the end of the game, out of disgust for their performance. Might have some similarities to those who wish to spoil their ballot paper at the UK General Election, this 7th May, #GE2015.
Primarily, it could be seen as a positive action, in support of a group that they highly value, that they perceive needs to change.
“How we are as individuals and as people, is not just structured as a sense of our selves as individuals, like ‘I’ and ‘me’, but a lot of our sense of self comes from the groups that we belong to, like: ‘we are Canadian’ or ‘we support a particular football team’… That sense of ‘we-ness’ provides us with a sense of shared identity, a sense of purpose and direction and it can be critical for life'” (2:00-2:30).
It was suggested by the interviewer that the Oiler’s fan, was acting in defiance against the group (their team) which was apparently precious to them, which was therefore a counter-productive act against their group, and could be detrimental to the individuals health.
Haslam’s response, while acknowledging his limited knowledge to the specific incident, suggested this action could be a way of “affirming their commitment to the group. They are not saying that ‘we don’t care about the group’, but ‘we really care about the group and its history’. And at some level they are having a dialogue with the team to say: ‘where are we going? What are we up to?’ So rather than disavowing their group membership, they are saying how much it matters to them. The fact that they all did it together suggests a sense of leadership. ‘We are saying no collectively and this is where we want the group to go, and we think that things aren’t right.’ Its precisely because they care about the team that they are engaging in that behaving. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t turn up..” (7:00-7.45)
So, now seamlessly to British politics. I firmly believe that we need a government, somebody or some group, to give strategic direction to our nation. I am passionate about the idea of democracy and feel that my vote in the General Election #GE2015 #May7 should allow the future government to know, how ‘we’, the people, want to be governed. The problem is, we have an electoral system designed for a two-party-state, with multiple parties. Despite the choice to vote for who ever we wish, in reality, we know that the only likely winner will be from ‘Party A’ or ‘Party B’. So if ‘Party A’ is the antithesis of what we think is important, we are quite likely to vote for ‘Party B’ as they represent our best bet of beating ‘Party A’, even though they might not reflect the political views we truly support. This gives an unclear picture to our government about how we want to be governed. Instead of voting to support what we want, many are voting against what they don’t want.
The problem within the UK is that we just do not know that we can vote for ‘none of the above’ or ‘throw our shirt on the ice’. At the last General Election in 2010 only 0.666% of votes were spoilt, but there were more non-voters, than votes cast for the winning candidate in 438 of the 650 constituencies. I believe this shows two things: the guidance to “vote for one specific candidate” is accurately followed and that many people do not value the system as they choose not to take part in it.
The Electoral Commission are the body in charge of producing the ‘event’ of the #GE2015 and have a handy How to vote at this election guide. The problem is that even though they acknowledge the current limitations placed on Returning Officers, who can not distinguish between an intentionally spoilt vote and an unclear vote, and should clearly be able to see that many people are disenfranchised from the system, as they do not take part. They seem unable to recognise that telling us to “vote for only one candidate” and implying that it would be a “mistake” to “spoil your ballot” is unduly influencing our behaviour. For if we know that we could spoil our ballot to vote for none of the above, I am certain that more than 1% of voters would do so.
Going back to what Haslam says, “when groups split… that’s a basis for the evolution of identity… and critically for the dynamics of social change” (8:40).
So if you believe in democracy, and want to create social change, spoiling your ballot paper this #GE2015 will fulfil both criteria and certainly will not be a wasted vote.