Volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan dissects our visitors responses to questions posed to them in Election! Britain Votes.
As part of our recent ‘Election! Britain Votes’ exhibition, we asked visitors to do a ballot paper vote on certain issues surrounding elections and the government. In total we had almost 2,800 responses! A lot of people also left comments and wrote their opinions on the ballot papers which proved for interesting debate. Here are the results –
Our first question was:
Would having an elected House of Lords make our democracy more representative and therefore fairer?
Parliament is made up of two chambers; the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons is where elected MPs debate laws. Once a bill is approved in the House of Commons, it is then reviewed by the House of Lords. The House of Lords is an unelected chamber and peerages can be titles passed down the generations, spiritual peers (for Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England) or given by a panel which includes the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
For this question, 78.1% voted Yes and their responses included comments such as “Yes but only if they still are experts in their fields” and “Yes, or appointed from society”.
21.9% voted No for this question. One visitor commented that the House of Lords “needs people who have expertise and cannot be strongly influenced by whips”. Another pointed out that for democracy to be fair, we need representatives from all areas of life, and thus appointing Lords works too. There were also quite a few people who responded and said that instead, we should get rid of the House of Lords altogether!
The next question was:
In order to increase the number of female MPs should parties have to meet quotas for female candidates?
In the 2010-2015 government 22% of MPs were female. The 2015 General Election saw an increase in female MPs, who now make up 29% of the government. However, there are questions of how representative this is. A common criticism of the House of Commons is that it does not reflect the composition of the population, of which 51% is female.
The idea of quotas for female MPs is often widely debated. The results for this question were very close – 52.2% voted Yes but many of these respondents commented that it should only be a temporary measure “until the inequality is changed”. Many respondents also believed that the same should be done for MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, as in 2010 only 27 MPs (out of 650) were from an ethnic minority.
For the 47.8% that voted No, many believed that “positive discrimination is still discrimination”, and candidates should be elected on their talent alone. Otherwise, as one visitor pointed out, it would undermine the basis on which they were elected.
Next, we asked:
Should we lower the voting age to 16 years old?
For the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, the voting age was reduced from 18 to 16. The referendum had a record-breaking turnout of 84.5% and more than 100,000 of these voters were 16-17 year olds. There is some debate to whether the voting age should be lowered; the Liberal Democrats promised it in their 2010 manifesto, Labour backed it in their 2015 Manifesto but the Conservative Party opposes it.
Similarly, the results on this question were divided. 53.9% of respondents voted Yes, many citing that 16 year olds are classed as adults in other aspects of life and so they should also be able to vote. A lot also voted Yes but on the condition that politics is taught as a core subject in schools.
On the other hand, 46.1% voted No, one visitor stating that voting is beyond comprehension at that age and “16 year olds are not mature enough to vote”. Interestingly enough, the House of Lords very recently backed an amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in council elections, with plans to do the same for the EU referendum later this year.
Perhaps one of the most contentious questions we asked was:
When people are sent to prison, they are no longer allowed to vote. In 2013, the Joint Committee published a report on the issue of prisoners’ voting eligibility. In this report, they recommended that prisoners should be able to apply to register to vote 6 months before their scheduled release date.
The response to this question was quite split. 32.3% voted ‘Yes, All Prisoners’, many believing that prisoners have the right to vote, as they have human rights and should be able to speak for themselves. One visitor asked, “How else will we achieve prison reform?”
A lot of responses were indecisive on the subject explaining that the issue was undoubtedly complicated and 30.2% voted ‘Yes, Some Prisoners’ as they think that voting should be allowed for some, dependent on their crime and release date.
37.5% voted No because they believe prisoners lose their right to vote with their freedom. One visitor said that prisoners have “committed crime and must give up their right” and that they should wait until they are released to vote.
We also asked:
Should the UK adopt a different voting system?
In the UK we currently have the voting system ‘First Past the Post’. This means that whichever political party has the most votes, wins. However, this is seen by some to produce unrepresentative results, and other voting systems such as Proportional Representation (PR) and Alternative Voting (AV) have been suggested instead. PR is a system which makes the seats won proportional to the percentage of votes, and AV is a system in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference.
An overwhelming 51% voted Yes for Proportional Representation and 20.2% voted Yes for AV. 28.8% voted to keep First Past the Post as one visitor commented: “I used to think PR was a good idea, but post-election I’m glad UKIP only got 1 MP despite the percentage of votes they received!”
Quite a few people also wrote that they would rather have a Single Transferable Vote which is a form of proportional representation which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
And, our final question was:
Should the Queen still play a part in the political process?
As our exhibition explained, the Queen has certain roles in Parliament. She appoints a new government, opens parliament each year, dissolves parliament before an election and signs bills into laws. She has the right to vote but chooses not to, in order to stay politically neutral.
41.3% voted Yes to the Queen still playing a part in the political process as she is the head of state. One visitor wrote: “She is more than just a figurehead, she is our leader!”
58.7% however, voted No, some visitors calling for an elected head of state, some believed that she has no real power, and some visitors wrote that the monarchy should be abolished instead.
One of the aims of the Election! exhibition was to engage visitors and to provide a space where visitors, researchers, activists and museum staff could get involved and debate election issues. The engagement within the exhibition has been incredible, and it has been very interesting looking through all the responses. Did you vote in our ballot? What do you think?