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, that the polity organizing the election lacks legitimacy, or that the candidates running are very unpopular. 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
|1983 Jamaican general election||2.7||6 of 60 seats contested, with 55% turnout in them.|
|1997 Slovak referendum||9.5|
|February 1996 Bangladeshi general election||21.0|
|2014 Bangladeshi general election||22.0|
|2005 Venezuelan parliamentary election||25.3|
|1991 Burkinabé presidential election||27.3|
|1992 Ghanaian parliamentary election||28.1|
|1997 Malian presidential election||29.0|
|1971 Trinidad and Tobago general election||33.2|
|1993 Togolese presidential election||36.2|
|2000 Ivorian presidential election||37.4|
|1973 Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum||58.1||Less than 1% amongst Catholics|
|2002 Gambian parliamentary election||56.4||Voting only took place in 15 of the 48 seats|
|1997 Serbian general election||57.4||The elections were boycotted by several parties, including the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Civic Alliance, which claimed that the elections would not be held under fair conditions|
|1999 Algerian presidential election||60||Boycotting candidates claimed that it was only around 25%|
|2000 Yugoslavian general election||28.8[nb 1]||Boycotting by the ruling coalition of Montenegro, led by DPS|
|2006 Thai general election||65.2||Boycotting by all 3 opposition parties in the house of representative.|
|2003 Guinean presidential election||86||Opposition estimates were less than 15%|
|2014 Thai general election||65.2||Boycotting by Democrat Party.|
|2017 Puerto Rican status referendum||23||Statehood, polled at 52% just 2 weeks prior, chosen by 97% of voters|
|2017 Catalan independence referendum||43.03||Opposition parties called on their voters to boycott the vote, except Catalunya Sí que es Pot who supported participation.|
|2018 Macedonian referendum||36.89||Supported EU and NATO membership by accepting Prespa agreement, chosen by 94.18 of voters|
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
- in Montenegro
- Frankel, Matthew. "Election Boycotts Don't Work" Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Brookings Institution, 3 November 2009.
- "Les bases de Podem Catalunya donen suport al referèndum de l'1 d'octubre però no el veuen vinculant". VilaWeb.cat (in Catalan). Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Marc Lacey (21 June 2009). "Disgruntled Mexicans Plan an Election Message to Politicians: We Prefer Nobody". The New York Times. p. A8.
- Vota en Blanco
- Nancy Davies (21 June 2009). "Representative Democracy versus Participatory Democracy". The Narco News Bulletin.
- Avijit Ghosh (21 June 2009). "No revolution for old radicals". The Times of India.