The Devaluation of the Vote

A little mathematical excursion:

In Britain in about 1650, only about 10% of the adult male population were eligible to vote for the 460 MPs in parliament. Given the population is estimated to have been about 5.6 million, then assuming an equality of males and females, and that 15% of the male population was too young to vote, then the number of eligible voters was about 5,600,000 x 0.5 x 0.85 x 0.1,  or 238,000 people. These 238,000 voters elected 460 MPs to parliament, and so there were 517 voters/MP.

In Britain in about 1930, 100% of adult males and females were eligible to vote for the 615 MPs in parliament. The population of Britain was about 45 million people, and so the number of eligible adult voters was around 45,000,000 x 0.85. or 38,200,000. And there were about 62,000 voters/MP.

The population of the EU is currently about 500 million, and there are 736 MEPs in the European parliament. So there are around 577,000 voters/MEP.

So the weight or value of a single British vote in 1930 was 517/62000 or 0.8% of its 1650 value. And the weight or value of a vote in the European parliament is 0.09% of this 1650 value.

As the population of a country grows, while its political class remains roughly constant, the vote is steadily devalued. In 1650, it was entirely possible for a British MP to have personally met every single one of the voters in his constituency, and to know what each of their concerns were. In Britain today, and even more so in the EU, this is quite impossible.

If one adds that the absolute power or influence of a country grows roughly in proportion to its population – because this population determines the maximum size of its army, and also the size of its tax revenue – then the power and influence of the British political class grew roughly tenfold between 1650 and 1930.

So as population increases, and the political class remains constant, the value of each vote dwindles, but the power of each MP or elected representative grows. Voters become less and less influential, and elected members more and more influential. Power and influence become concentrated in the political class, and particularly in prime ministers or presidents.

Assuming similar sorts of numbers apply everywhere else in the world, perhaps this might go some way towards explaining why voters everywhere are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the political class in their respective countries, and why the political class everywhere is becoming increasingly detached from its electors – and why there is a “democratic deficit” in the EU.

This growing disenchantment might also help explain why Ireland split from Britain in 1918, and why Scotland almost did so in 2014 (and may yet do so). For the falling value of the vote is likely to be experienced most strongly at the margins. Irish and Scottish voters probably found that their concerns fell on increasingly deaf ears in Westminster.

Equally, the growing power of the political class may result in dictatorships, as power becomes concentrated in the hands of a single individual.

Perhaps a great many political processes are driven by very simple electoral mathematics?


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15 Responses to The Devaluation of the Vote

  1. Roobeedoo2 says:

    Democracy is suffering hyper-inflation?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Well, yes. At least according to the doubtlessly over-simplistic reasoning I’ve set out.

      • Roobeedoo2 says:

        Yeah, well ‘over-simplistic reasoning’ shapes our world, so why not? It works and makes perfect sense it you applied the same stringency that politicians applied to evaluating Tobacco Control’s killer facts…

        *Yes, Clicky, pun intended*

  2. Frank Davis says:

    The population of the USA in 1776 was 2.5 million. And there were 65 members of the first House of Representatives, and 435 now. Women got the vote in 1920. I’ll assume that all US adult males could vote*. Current US population is 324 million.

    So in 1776 there were 0.85 x 0.5 x 2,500,000 voters eligible to elect 65 Representatives, or 16,300 voters/Representative. In 2016, there are 0.85 * 324,000,000 / 435 or 633,000 voters/Representative. The US vote has been devalued to 16300 / 633000, or 2.5% of its 1776 value. In absolute terms it’s actually worse than in the present EU 577,000 voters/MEP.

    * Actually, in the USA, there wasn’t universal male suffrage until Andrew Jackson in 1820. And then only white male suffrage.


    • Harleyrider1978 says:

      When you figure out most of the minority vote and illegals vote for democrats as well as most women it’s easy to see why the democrats constantly push and cheat to allow any of them legal or illegal to vote. When the electorate is polluted with emotional based non reasoning people we end up with obamas in office and trillions more in debt and more losses of freedom.

      • Frank Davis says:

        Equally, the effect of devaluing the vote (e.g. by allowing illegals to vote) is to reduce democratic oversight, and to concentrate power in the political class. Which is what socialists always seem to want to do.

    • mikef317 says:

      Math isn’t one of my talents. However…..

      The 324,000,000 U. S. population figure is for all people, including children.

      Voting age has historically varied between 18 and 21. At a guess, the 324 million should be reduced somewhere between 20 and 25 percent.

      Garry K or Smokervoter might have better numbers.

      • Frank Davis says:

        The 324,000,000 U. S. population figure is for all people, including children.

        I know. And that’s why I reduced it by 15% (by multiplying by 0.85). Your suggestion of reducing it by 20 – 25% may well be more accurate. I have the impression that in past centuries there were a lot more children (and higher child mortality), so it may have been needed to have been reduced by 50% or more.

    • garyk30 says:

      In the first census of the United States, taken in 1790, about half of the white male population was under the age of 16.

      This will lower the numbers somewhat.

  3. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    An interesting thought(s) , worthy of an early Sunday morn. Another factor I feel that must be added into the mix is ‘speed of communication’. How many days, back in the days when ‘tweet’ was something birds did, would it have taken a rider with fresh horses to bring an election result in , say, John O Groats to Lands End?. I really have no idea but for arguments sake say a week?
    Which is why the US electoral system seems painfully drawn out to Europeans with it’s elections about elections to elect Electors who in turn travel to Washington to elect.

    • Frank Davis says:

      That’s a good point. If your MP/representative lives in Washington/Westminster, you might seldom see them, and it could take a long time to contact them.

      Now that we have electronic communication systems, we ought to be able to tweet our representatives. And do they all have to be in Washington/Westminster. Why not hold debates using Skype?

      I must say I was a bit stunned to arrive at a figure of 500 voters per MP in 1650 Britain. Politics must have been very different back then, when many people must have known their MP like their family doctor.

      If we had that sort of representation now, we’d need a parliament with 136,000 MPs in it. Either that, or there’d be 136,000/600 or 226 different devolved parliaments in Britain. Neither alternative would seem to be workable.

  4. Cecily Collingridge says:

    Yes, an interesting perspective.

    Add to that the fact that, at the last election in 2015 under our diabolical First Past the Post system, 25.7 million UK voters lived in safe seats (like me), unlikely to ever see their constituency change hands.

    The Conservative party secured a majority on just under 37% of the votes. Taking turnout into account, the current government commands the support of just a quarter (24.4%) of the registered electorate.
    (Source: Electoral Reform Society Report)

    • garyk30 says:

      USA = Prez is normally elected by the votes of about 25% of the registered voters which are 67% of the adults.
      Their mandate comes from having one in four possible voters vote for them.

      Voter turn-out may usually run as low 20% for non-presidential year elections for members of Congress.

      Members of the House and Senate may be in office with only 10-15% of the voters actually voting for them.

  5. Rose says:


    Prisoner Suicide Over Smoking Ban
    April 12th, 2016

    “A prisoner has killed himself after allegedly being stopped from smoking in Swansea jail.
    Inmate Dean George, 40, was found dead in his cell at one of eight jails trialling the “no smoking” ban on health grounds.
    Prison Service chiefs are investigating his death at Swansea prison which started the smoking ban four months ago.

    Other prisoners say tensions are running high over the smoking ban – and that George had threatened to kill himself.
    A partner of an inmate said: “Dean George was found dead because of the smoking ban. He told the staff he was going to do it.
    “It’s human rights – they should be allowed to smoke.”

    “Officers said Swansea Prison has been operating normally since going smoke free in January – and denied there has been large unrest over the smoking ban.”

    Swansea Prison rooftop protest RECAP: Smoking ban blamed for incident
    17th April 2016

    “THREE inmates staged a rooftop protest on Swansea prison – as friends outside blamed rising tensions inside on the facility’s smoking ban.

    Onlookers said the men had first been spotted on the roof of the Oystermouth Road site some time before midday. They could been seen from the streets around the prison, apparently drinking from a bottle.
    At least three fire crews were at the scene, as negotiators attempted to talk the men down.

    “Their actions triggered shouting from other prisoners in their cells, and at least one could be seen throwing lit paper from between their bars into the prison grounds.”

    “A partner of one of the men, who refused to be named, said: “He’s protesting over not having a burn – he’s desperate.

    “He’s been climbing the walls for weeks and now he’s snapped over a fag.

    “He’s kept his head down for months now – it’s all ruined because Swansea decided to pilot a no smoking ban.”

    23 July 2015
    I don’t predict a riot: jail smoking ban need not spell unrest
    By Deborah Arnott

    “Yet every time the idea of a ban is raised in the media, the headlines inevitably focus on fears of unrest and riots, rather than the health and wellbeing of inmates and staff.

    The hypothesis that depriving smokers of tobacco could destabilise prisons may sound plausible, but there is little evidence to back it up. In fact, many prisons around the world have gone smoke-free with few problems, particularly if, as in New Zealand, this is accompanied by measures such as nicotine replacement therapy to support those who quit.

    It is true that smoking rates are higher in prison. Up to 80 per cent of prisoners in the UK are tobacco users, which means that the level of exposure to second-hand smoke is very high. Furthermore, surveys show that most jailed smokers, like any other smokers, want to quit.”

    Reportedly, the men have now come down .

  6. Pingback: Protest and Suicide in Prison Smoking Ban | Frank Davis

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