Public interest up, turnout down

One of the great strengths of the polling firm MORI is that they have consistently asked the same questions over decades, making comparisons across elections, decades and even generations possible.* One of these comparisons over time that has caught my eye is the level of public interest in elections:

Thinking back to the campaign, how interested would you say you were in news about the General Election?

1992: 52% very or fairly interested
2010: 75% very or fairly interested

That is a big increase in the level of declared public interest in election news. Turnout, however, was 78% in 1992, falling to 65% in 2010 even though both were elections which, ahead of polling day, were seen as close and without a sure overall winner.

It’s certainly a bit of a conundrum as to why people would be more interested in news about the election during the campaign but less likely to vote. So over to you for suggestions…

* The usual caveat about changing methodology applies, though as any polling firm always tries to have a methodology that works for how people are currently behaving, and so changing methodology over time is the right response to changing public behaviour, this is less of an issue than changing question wording. That’s because even small changes in the wording of questions can produce big differences in results regardless of other methodological considerations. A good example in the last Parliament was the leader ratings by YouGov, who used different wordings for different clients and got consistently different results, even though all the rest of the methodology was the same. Hence MORI’s consistent wording is a major boon.

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  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Jun '10 - 10:07am

    “The interest may have been increased though as a result of the addition of Social Networking as an additional medium.”

    Yes – I daresay turnout would have been quite a bit higher if people could have voted by clicking a button on Facebook. But perhaps the effort of walking to the polling station is just too much trouble in the Internet age.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Jun '10 - 11:12am

    “It didn’t help that there were issues with voting process in some places …”

    The figures I’ve seen in connection with that were only a few hundred people. Maybe 0.002% of the electorate?

  • New media can lead to inaction, or the belief that you have acted without actually voting. (So the question now is, how can we guarantee converting ‘digital natives’ into votes at the polling station.)

    So interest, facebook polls, activity, forwarding of news stories and general chatter was up, but actual turnout, down to you local polling station was down.

    Would be interested to see a difference between seats with a heavier e-campaign focus (for us that is).

  • Anthony Aloysius St 7th Jun '10 - 12:42pm


    Here’s a link to the interim report:

    It says just over 1200 people were affected, which I reckon is about 0.0026% of the electorate.

  • @Tina, you are right. We do achieve a great deal online. However, I do think the conversion rates from fb group to voting for instance – particularly for that new boost of young Lib Dem voters – was not quite as great as hoped. If it had been, that 30% may have turned out.

    I count myself as a digital native and have no doubt that we will work out how to convert it to even more votes soon.

  • the fact people work (and commute) more makes a mid-week election harder to attend.
    If you’re in a safe seat (which it seem around half the seats are), then you’ll be far less inclined to make the effort, even if you’re interested in the overall election.
    And it probably would have been much worse without postal votings!

  • David Allen 7th Jun '10 - 5:01pm

    Back in 1992 or earlier, people may have been bored stiff by politics, but they knew where their class interests lay, and they very often voted accordingly. Nowadays they are rather less likely to know which party is best for their class, and that’s a good thing, I guess.

    Back in the sixties, the Liberals boasted of being classless, and the polls bore that out. The Tory vote was highly middle-class, the labour vote of course highly working class, ours was fairly evenly spread.

    Nowadays it is the Tory vote which is most evenly spread between classes. Ours is least even, and most biased towards classes A and B. Food for thought!

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