Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well... we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all. - Pericles on Athenian Democracy.
The Australian: Minority who care are polls apart [June 15, 2004], discussing flaws in polling questions and general voter apathy (kept in check only via compulsory voting):
[I]n recent years there has been a decreasing enthusiasm and an increasing indifference to the whole business of electing governments, state or federal. Should Howard fall over the line, it will not be a consequence of euphoria. The ingredients may well include fatalism, irritation, even anger, while a vote for Latham might be cast in irritability as much as inspiration.
There is far more involvement in the Melbourne Cup or a record-breaking swim by Ian Thorpe, or even the outcome of Big Brother. Increasingly, people express their dwindling political involvement through activities other than party politics, which they understandably view with growing contempt. So they'll sign up for environmental groups or single-issue organisations. Alternatively, they simply drop out and go shopping. They disassociate. Qualitative researcher Hugh Mackay has been saying it for years: we're living in an era of detachment. Take away compulsory voting and the crisis can be seen vividly.
See also: comments at Belegdel: I've been asked...
Factors which must be considered:
- Only two major parties and neither one is good. Alternatives like the Greens, Democrats* or independents are not even available in many electorates.
- Traditional Holden vs. Ford style voting; where your parents always voted for one party no matter what; and their parents before them etc; so you always vote for that party no matter what. Similar to the way Australians almost always vote No in referendums. It's not based on anything other than unquestioning tradition and resistence to change.
- Even if you support an alternative, there is the FUD factor from the big two parties: "a vote for anyone else is a wasted vote". Although this is clearly bullshit, your average bonehead is so easily swayed by flawed argument that they just along with it. Doesn't matter to them that it's their democratic right - responsibility even - to vote according to their real wishes.
- Sheer, uncomplicated, bone-idle laziness; as well as an increasing level of "it's all about me" self-absorption. Voting is too much like work - people resent giving up their weekend time to go and vote. If voting wasn't compulsory they simply wouldn't; not because they have an objection or don't like the options... but because they are too fucking lazy or self-absorbed to go and do it. They'll vote on reality TV because they can do it via SMS without shifting off the couch.
- Non-compulsory voting allows relatively small lobby groups to control/sway the outcome of elections, by motivating their relatively-passionate membership to vote a certain way.
* Damn stupid self-destroying Democrats. They had a strong, popular leader who appealed to young voters (most of whom actively wanted an alternative to Lib/Lab) and were poised to become a serious third player... then internal politics decimated them and they all but disappeared. I rate that single event as the single biggest tragedy for Australian politics in the last 8 years.