Definitions

protest-vote

Protest vote

A Protest vote is a vote cast in an election to demonstrate the caster's unhappiness with the choice of candidates or refusal of the current political system. It can thus be said "conjectural," as the voter would accept other candidates in the same system, or "structural," if the voter is opposed to the whole system — usually representative democracy, but it may also signify opposition to a two-party system where "third options" are always rejected. In this latter case, protest vote may take the form of a legal vote, but instead of voting for the mainstream candidates, it is a vote in favor of a minority or fringe candidate, either from the far-left, far-right or self-presenting as a candidate foreign to the political system.

Along with abstention, which is simply the act of not voting, or of refusing to vote, it is often considered to be a clear sign of the lack of popular legitimacy and roots of representative democracy, as not voting endangers the credibility of the whole voting system. If protest vote takes the form of a blank vote, it may or not be tallied into final results. Thus, it may either result in a spoilt vote (which is the case most of the times) or, if the electoral system accepts to take it into account, as a "None of the Above" vote.

Several possible protest votes

Protest vote can be formulated in several ways:

  • Voting for a minority or fringe candidate that has no chance of getting elected under standard situation (see below).
  • Posting a blank ballot paper, without marking a choice.
  • Spoiling the ballot paper.
  • Selecting a "None of the Above", or "Blank vote" option, if one exists.

However, some jurisdictions may give different interpretations to each of the methods mentioned above.

Sometimes, a person may use even more uncommon, often illegal, methods to show the displeasure. Example include ripping the ballot apart, asking other people to vote for them, selling the vote (for example, putting his vote on auction sites), or even eating the ballot.

Protest vote and abstention

Abstention may be considered as a form of protest vote, when it is not assimilable to simple apathy or indifference towards politics in general. Henceforth, the anarchist movement which has since its origins rejected representative democracy in favor of a more direct form of government, traditionally calls for abstention in an active and protest gesture. In states where voting is compulsory, abstention may be seen as an act of civil disobedience.

Voting for fringe candidates

"Protest vote" also refers, in a more derogatory manner, to specific demographic categories, classifying populations according to the frequency and nature of their vote. Thus, in the US, middle-income families vote more often than working classes' or ghettoised populations. After the 2002 French presidential election, in which far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen arrived second behind conservative candidate Jacques Chirac, many analysts put the blame of the surprising result on working class, accused of engaging themselves in "protest vote," that is in support of fringe candidates belonging to the far-left or the far-right, or even to people who present themselves as alien to the political world (in France, environmentalist René Dumont in 1974, comedian Coluche in 1981 — but he withdrew his candidacy before the elections — environmentalist Pierre Rabhi who unsuccessfully tried to present himself in 2002, as well as TV showman Nicolas Hulot who almost presented himself for 2007, before putting aside his idea, thus leaving electoral space for José Bové, a figure of the alterglobalization movement who recently decided to present himself as an independent candidate). This kind of protest vote, where the vote is taken into account but accused of being "useless," is often considered by political analysts to be either a form of populism or, worst, of poujadism. For example, French voters were encouraged by the establishment to make a "useful" vote in the 2007 presidential election, i.e. in voting either for Nicolas Sarkozy, representative of the UMP conservative party, or for Ségolène Royal, representative of the PS social-democrat party, and not for other candidates which allegedly had no chances of arriving in the second turn of the elections.

Protest vote in various countries

In the United States, cartoon characters are typically used as protest votes; as Mickey Mouse is the most well-known and well-recognized character in the United States, his name is frequently selected for this purpose. (Other popular selections include Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny.) This phenomenon has the humorous effect of causing Mickey Mouse to be a minor but perennial contestor of nearly all recent U.S. presidential elections.

A similar phenomenon occurs in the parliamentary elections in Finland, although Finns usually write Donald Duck as a protest vote because Donald is more famous in Finland than Mickey. Other characters, both real and fictional, are used as protest votes too. One theory has it that the reason for boxer/politician Tony Halme's popularity in one of the elections was because he was being used as a protest vote. Somewhat ironically, this might mean that protest votes actually got someone elected.

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