Living & Working

Qualifying for elections

April 25, 2014

Here’s a little thought experiment about less-than-free elections. I know we love the concept of letting everyone vote, letting everyone have their say in who runs the country. But the thing that frustrates a lot of voters, and hamstrings politicians, is the idiocy of the general public.

If it wasn’t for this idiocy, then candidates wouldn’t be able to drum up panics about non-existent threats just long enough to get a few votes. Electioneering would be a lot harder if people’s views were not formed during a party political broadcast.

So here’s my idea: a little testy-westy (as my Spanish teacher used to say) which you would have to pass in order to be eligible to vote.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this would make engagement drop off a cliff. It’s hard enough getting people to haul themselves off the sofa long enough to fall across the street to a polling station, let alone get them to voluntarily take an exam in order to do so. We’d have even less legitimate politics if no one could be bothered to go through the whole process.

But actually, I’d argue the contrary.

If you thought that elections would be the end process of a well thought out internal debate amongst the electors, wouldn’t you be more inclined to stick your oar in? And wouldn’t you be more inclined to make sure you were of test-passing material? And thus, further intelligent voters.

Now, the crucial thing is the nature of the exam. I’m not advocating a General Knowledge or IQ test. That would be prejudicial against our masses, and passing would depend a lot on birth circumstances, which is not what I’m trying to do.

It’s more of a ‘meta-test’, and who doesn’t love meta? It would be a test of your ability to spot BS, lies and propaganda. It would test your ability to understand why certain people say certain things. How people’s record of opinion gives clues to how their current opinions are formed.

Other questions could be along the lines of “Is there any hard evidence that…?” Fill in the blank with a current call-to-arms by Ukip and the like.

In all, it would be a test of how well you can understand the arguments made, and how well you understand the evidence presented on both sides. If it seems you’re likely to believe whoever turns up on your doorstep to state their case, then you fail. If you’re more likely to come to your own opinion, and dismiss ‘common sense’ press articles disseminated by fascism-supporting rags, then you’re going to pass without even thinking about it.

You could do worse than start with the BBC’s Bitesize History Revision quiz:

Once this sort of thing becomes second nature to everyone who’s voting, at least the country can go to the polls with confidence in its own opinion.

Of course, it’s not a water-tight argument. People will still vote to their own advantage, but that’s what a democracy is all about. People will still believe opinions from dodgy sources, most likely when those sources’ conclusions coincide with their own.

But for those swing voters who really don’t know what to believe, this little exam will give them a motivation to improve their situation. You just need to keep half an eye on the news, and know when things are presented a certain way to you, and the exam will improve the stock of voters no end, even if it does reduce the numbers. The only barrier to entry will be your own effort.

And that’s better than letting some idiot politician pull the wool over our eyes.