Should I forgo my holiday to vote Tory?

24th April, 2010

Dear Economist,
Would it be very wrong to go on holiday and miss voting in the forthcoming general election? We have an excellent constituency MP (Tory) who has a reasonably safe seat. I don’t agree with all his party’s policies, such as they are, but he has an excellent voting record and works very hard. I’d like to see him retain his seat – but not as much as I’d like to go on holiday.

Last election, the Liberal Democrats came second in my constituency and Labour came third, with a turnout of 70 per cent. If my vote were material in preventing a Labour government, I would be prepared to forego the holiday. Should I?

Unmarried UK Voter

Dear Unmarried Voter,

The country is fortunate indeed to have voters like you. Many people choose not to vote because of far smaller inconveniences – that it is raining, or that every local candidate is an uninspiring stuffed suit. (Next time, though, might I suggest registering to vote by post?)

I think you can cut yourself some slack. In the vanishingly unlikely event that your vote does make the difference between Tory and Labour government, the margin of victory will be so fine that the joy of Tory voters will be precisely balanced by the misery of Labour voters. For this reason I believe you need not vote at such great inconvenience to yourself. Let us consider your own preferences instead. The Conservatives are far more popular than at the last election, while Labour’s popularity has slumped. Unless there is some local scandal you have not mentioned, there is almost no chance that your MP will lose a safe seat while swimming with a favourable tide. The chance your vote will matter locally must be much less than 1 per cent. If you value that more strongly than a vacation, you’re a committed voter indeed – unnervingly committed. Sounds to me like you need that holiday!

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