Boycotting may be used as a form of political protest where voters feel that electoral fraud is likely, or that the electoral system is biased against its candidates, or that the polity organizing the election lacks legitimacy. In jurisdictions with compulsory voting, a boycott may amount to an act of civil disobedience; alternatively, supporters of the boycott may be able to cast blank votes or vote for "none of the above". Boycotting voters may belong to a particular regional or ethnic group. A particular political party or candidate may refuse to run in the election and urges its supporters to boycott the vote.
In the case of a referendum, a boycott may be used as a voting tactic by opponents of the proposition. If the referendum requires a minimum turnout to be valid, the boycott may prevent this quorum being reached.
In general elections, individuals and parties will often boycott in order to protest the ruling party's policies with the hope that when voters do not show up the elections will be deemed illegitimate by outside observers. This tactic, however, can prove disastrous for the boycotting parties. Lack of participation rarely nullifies election results and the distorted voting is likely to further detach boycotting groups from the organs of power, leaving them susceptible to political irrelevance.
Major instances of electoral boycotts
|Jamaican general election, 1983||2.7||6 of 60 seats contested, with 55% turnout in them.|
|Slovak referendum, 1997||9.5|
|Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2005||25.3|
|Burkinabé presidential election, 1991||27.3|
|Ghanaian parliamentary election, 1992||28.1|
|Malian presidential election, 1997||29.0|
|Trinidad and Tobago general election, 1971||33.2|
|Togolese presidential election, 1993||36.2|
|Ivorian presidential election, 2000||37.4|
|Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, 1973||58.1||Less than 1% amongst Catholics|
|Gambian parliamentary election, 2002||56.4||Voting only took place in 15 of the 48 seats|
|Algerian presidential election, 1999||60||Boycotting candidates claimed that it was only around 25%|
|Guinean presidential election, 2003||86||Opposition estimates were less than 15%|
Other social movements in other parts of the world also have similar campaigns or non-voting preferences. These include the Naxalites in India, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico and various Anarchist oriented movements. In Mexico's mid term 2009 elections there was strong support for 'Nulo' - a campaign to vote for no one. In India poor people's movements in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh have rejected parliamentary politics (as well as the NGO and Maoist alternatives).
- abstention -- an individual not voting
- abstentionism -- running in an election to a deliberative assembly but refusing to take any seats won
- Frankel, Matthew. "Election Boycotts Don't Work", The Brookings Institution, 3 November 2009.
- 'New York Times' Disgruntled Mexicans Plan an Election Message to Politicians: We Prefer Nobody
- Vota en Blanco
- 'Representative Democracy versus Participatory Democracy' by Nancy Davis, Narco News, 21 June 2009
- No revolution for old radicals, 'Times of India', 21 June 2009