Friday, October 08, 2010

Alphabetical discrimination?

Having a surname beginning with W, I noticed a long time that society's preference for doing things in alphabetical order can inflict a number of mostly trivial nuisances on those with surnames at the end of the alphabet.

Because of voter laziness, one form of usually trivial discrimination against people with alphabetically high names is in being always placed at the bottom of the ballot paper.

In the ward where I did most of my campaigning during the very first election I was involved in - the general and local council elections of 1979 - we had a classic example of this.

A few of those who had turned out to vote for the general election, when given their local government ballot paper, just ticked the first three names. Because it was a close election, those three were elected - one Conservative, one Labour councillor, and one Independent.

My mother, whose maiden name began with L, told me that she noticed the difference when marriage to my father took her from the middle to the end of the alphabet.

In today's "political betting" thread, Mike Smithson points out that not one of the MPs elected to the Labour shadow cabinet has a surname with a letter higher in the alphabet than "M"

As Mike says,

"It’s all down to human nature and laziness. Basically when faced with a long list and a lot of choices some voters can’t be arsed going down the full list."

But as he also adds, you would expect Labour MPs to do better, even when they were faced with 49 names on the ballot paper from which they had to choose 19.

Mark Pack wrote an interesting piece about the academic evidence on the subject last year on Lib/Dem Voice which you can read "here.

The alternative solution is random ordering of the names: as Mark points out, this can make it harder to find a particular name. But there does seem to be a case that it is fairer.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Lucky Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. Top of the list for the Shadow Cabinet elections! Are Labour MPs really so lazy they can't read the list? Pretty scary.

Pity R comes before W, we might now have a good MP! Did not work for Clive Jefferson though, thank heavens.

On a serious note I suspect where there are fewer candidates who are high profile, as in the General election, the public are more likely to read through the list. However, there were reports in Whitehaven that some people were voting Labour without knowing the candidate's name! Ignoramus galore out in full force.

There are a multitude of reasons that make voters act in a particular way on the day. Too numerous to quantify. When the list is long or there are three candidates for each ward, as in many district elections, the can't be bothered reading down the list is likely to be one of the variables.

I do not know what the answer is as one cannot disenfranchise the ignorant in a true democracy.

I suppose I can rest assured that having a surname beginning with M, just about keeps me in the running for the district elections! Otherwise I could resort to using my maiden name which began with D.

Personally I prefer to keep faith with the voter who gives the elected member the legitimacy to govern.