What do the academics say? How an intention to move effects turnout

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – how intention to move home influences turnout in Britain.

The finding is from “Geographic Mobility, Social Connections and Voter Turnout” by Keith Dowding, Peter John and Daniel Rubenson (Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, Vol. 22 No.2, May 2012):

We have shown that the intention to move [home] will reduce the probability that someone will vote, suggesting that people take into account the benefits consequent upon their vote when deciding whether to cast a ballot. Those intending to move are less likely to gain benefits from the representatives for whom they are voting if they think they will not be in the community in the near future … Our results indicate that the effect is stronger in the case of local elections.

The maximum effect they found was for someone in a local election who has not been involved in any local group, club or organisation in the last 12 months. For such people an intention to move reduces turnout by nearly 8 percentage points. The size of that effect drops as people have greater ties to local groups or if the election is a general election.

Although political campaigns rarely have information about whether someone is intending to move, this finding is a reminder of the value of targeting properties with a high turnover of population as they are likely to contain people who fall into this lower turnout pattern.

The likely lower turnout, or conversely the greater the benefit for a campaign of targeting ‘get out the vote’ efforts, is all the more the further away from a polling station the property is. As for what messages will motivate people to vote, remember the benefits of reminding people how many other people do vote.

You can read the other posts in our What do the academics say? series here.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • Richard Dean 8th May '12 - 9:57pm

    These academic study things always admit to several interpretations. What the academics seems to have come up with is an explanation that fits certain assumptions, that things have to be complicated, and that people take account of the benefits to them of voting in locations where their future is. But there is at least one simpler explanation. Here it is:

    If I was intending to move, I’d have a lot more on my mind than usual … packing, transport, costs, breakages, insurance, new neighbours, … so voting would natural take a lower priority than otherwise. Obviously if the election seemed more important, like a GE, the relative change of priortities might be less, and if I was still active with friends in the cmmunity, I’d be less likely to change my behaviour until the last minute before moving.

    This seems to fit the data of the study juts as well! Did the academics explore ths possibility? One reason that a correct explanation is important is what you point out – being effort-effective in targetting elector groups.

  • I agree with Richard, we could have told you that! But given that large swathes of potential electors just don’t bother to vote is more important than the smaller scenarios referred to here, we need to tackle that larger disinterest. When voters say ‘they are all the same’, ‘what difference does it make’, ‘I am not interested/don’t understand politics’ we have a bigger job to do than just worry about which doors we knock up. We need to assess why people really take up these positions, do they really think it is futile? why do they think councillors are in it for themselves? why do they see us as all the same? why do the ones who want to protest about the system vote for the horrendous marginal parties? where do they get their ideas from? and lots of other questions. The answers to these will inform what needs to be done.

  • Talk about research into the bleedin’ obvious, Mark! You learn these things as you go around canvassing. Richard’s points are also valid. What you find generally in local elections, and IMO one of the reasons why local turnouts are lower than national, is that people who are more involved in their local community have a greater tendency to vote. Many people are hardly involved at all.Preparing to move is just a special case of less involvement. Younger, and “non-family” people often have less local involvement, and so turnout is lowered for these people. In order to encourage them, you have to find something relevant to them. Doorstep research on this will only make people more wary of you (unless they know you anyway!!)

  • Guy Patterson 10th May '12 - 9:54am

    I would draw the reverse conclusion: if you are leaving the area then it does not matter how strong the party message is, the answer will simply be ‘ I shant be here’. Much better to work in the more favourable areas where you will be taking votes away from the other parties.

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