POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Protest Vote

A protest vote is cast in an election or referendum in order to convey the voter’s disapproval of the available options or the political system as a whole. 

If voters are dissatisfied with the options available to them in an election or referendum they can intentionally cast an invalid vote or spoilt ballot. This may involve either defacing the ballot paper before placing it in the ballot box or simply submitting a blank ballot paper. In some elections a ‘none of the above’ option may appear on the ballot paper, allowing voters to expressly communicate their disapproval of all other options.

If voters are more interested in showing their dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole, they may decide to vote for fringe, non-mainstream political parties running on campaign platforms of significant social and political change.

Abstention as a form of protest vote

In some instances, abstention can be viewed as a type of protest vote. When voters make a conscious decision to not participate in an election, this could be seen as a form of protest vote. However, if abstentions result from a lack of interest in politics altogether, then it would not be a protest vote. Abstention as a protest vote is difficult to measure as election data simply shows voter turnout as a percentage, not the reasons why people abstained.

See also: Invalid Votes, Spoilt Ballot, None of the Above

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