by Sabine Hanger

Whenever you vote for the National Council in Austria you have one vote for a particular party, but three votes for specific candidates. One for the regional province you live in, one from the federal province (for example lower Austria) and the last one for a candidate on the national level.

Especially the People’s Party (=ÖVP) builds on that structure and in conjunction to that encourages young people to participate in politics.

How the preferential voting system works

As mentioned in the introduction, in Austria you vote on three different levels. On the national level, you either vote for a party or a candidate who represents that party explicitly. Voting for a specific candidate on that level does not have a particular impact since there is a fixed list of people in dependency. On the federal province level, it works quite similar. Although on that scale again the candidates are ranked, it is possible to overtake someone’s position on the list by having more votes.

However, voting on the provincial level works differently. There are no candidates ranked in given order, with the result that for them to become a member of the parliament, they need a certain number of votes. After that system, it is self-explanatory that on a provincial level, the political campaign is focused on candidates rather than parties themselves.

Imagine living in a province with about 50.000 inhabitants, where you have a regional leader who does a great job improving other people’s lives. Not by changing the health or education system, but by building new jobs or just by implementing simple projects.

Motivated strongly not by an ideology or a particular party, but by the fact that you want to bring progress into your community. With the main election for the National Council coming up, you have a chance to bring that leader into the parliament through the preferential voting system.

Using exact calculations based on the votes, the ÖVP now has roughly 30 out of their 62 seats in the parliament, occupied by politicians from local communities, voted in not because they were top of the list, – but because they succeeded by getting the most votes. The People Party, ÖVP, in Austria always does an extraordinary job by using this system to its fullest and gains its strength especially from the federal organisation within the party. Although it now might seem a bit different with Sebastian Kurz, the ÖVP politicians are mostly known for their work they do in local communities rather than their excellent political strategies.

With not focusing too much on their positions rather than their candidates in different communities they managed to be in the coalition almost every time since the end of the second world war. Although this is compelling, it must be pinpointed that it works exceptionally well because being politically involved, even interested in political discussions is not everyone’s cup of tea. By having the chance to vote for your not-so-much-political local leader you can give someone your support because you appreciate the work he or she does without necessarily sharing the same view, for example, on immigration policy.

How the preferential voting system benefits young leaders in local communities

Initially, it should be underlined – that the preferential voting system benefits young politicians mainly in the more rural areas. There, campaigning is different, because one does not necessarily start working for the party led by political career dreams rather than, as mentioned before, his or her genuine passion for the people.

The reason why the preferential voting system benefits young leaders in rural areas lies within the higher possibility of their hard work paying off, even if they are engaged in a rather small community.

As a matter of fact, out of those 62 members of parliament as mentioned above, that belong to the ÖVP, ten are under the age of 35, the youngest being only 22 years old.

Having a higher number of seats in the parliament taken by young people does not only ensure a new point of view and even a fresh approach in political discussions but also helps to promote politics amongst the younger generation by having their voices not only heard but actually, represented.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71