Tag Archives: turnout

Democratic Audit on the “scandal” of the poor value taxpayers get for the £800m spent on elections in the UK

Ballot paperDemocratic Audit, an independent research organisation based at the London School of Economics, this week published a report, Engaging young voters with enhanced election information. The title may not be the most exciting ever, but the report itself is worth a read. (You can download it here.)

The executive summary from the report’s authors, Patrick Dunleavy and Richard Berry, sets out the current problem as they see it:

Current arrangements in the UK only give very poor, fragmented and old-fashioned feedback to voters about what effect their participation has had, and what election outcomes were.

Posted in What do the academics say? | Also tagged , , and | 15 Comments

Overnight counting, electoral fraud and the running of elections: a bounty of Electoral Commission reports

The last few days have been busy ones for the Electoral Commission, with most of the headlines caught by their report into when election counts should take place (overnight or the next day):

The Electoral Commission has recommended general election counts should continue to be held overnight.

Before the 2010 election, a number of councils made plans to count votes the day after polling day.

But a campaign by MPs and others resulted in a change of the law requiring counts to start within four hours of the close of polls…

Chair of the Electoral Commission Jenny Watson said: “We are rightly proud

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 7 Comments

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 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

Posted in What do the academics say? | 4 Comments

Can polling station location alter how people vote?

I’ve written before about how the number and location of polling stations has an impact on turnout, but what about the candidate choices people make when they are in a polling station?

A new academic study of 99 people suggests the choice of building for a polling station can have an impact on people’s political outlooks:

Posted in Election law and What do the academics say? | Also tagged | 17 Comments

Will polling stations start being moved to raise turnout at elections?

I’ve blogged a few times before about the way that increasing the number of polling stations, or locating them better, can increase turnout, by reducing the average travel time for (non-postal) voters to get to their polling place.

However, whilst things that involve technology and electricity (text voting, internet voting et al.) tend to grab the headlines and get demands for action (usually from people who haven’t noticed the previous British trials which showed their failure to have a significant impact on turnout), the rather more prosaic act of wondering about which school halls to use and where to locate …

Posted in Election law | Also tagged and | 2 Comments

Performance standards for Returning Officers consultation opens

The Electoral Commission is currently consulting on its performance standards for Returning Officers in Great Britain. Here’s my response (with the full consultation document embedded below).

Dear Ross Clayton,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Returning Officer performance standards.

As you rightly identify (p.6), one of the key principles for each election should be participation: “it should be straightforward for people to participate in our elections, whether campaigning or voting”.

However, the campaigning aspect of this is only partially followed up in the standards themselves. Performance Standard 2c covers some aspects of this, and the inclusion of informal nomination checking is particularly welcome. However, it misses out the timely provision of electoral register and absent voter data to candidates and agents. A common problem at the moment, for example, is for the final additions to the absent voter list before polling day to be provided to agents only several days later, which then leaves very little time for agents and candidates to make use of such data. Prompt provision of electoral register data and absent voter data is essential for the principle of straightforward participation to be meaningful. This could be met by adding a requirement to have target response times for dealing with requests for such data and recording the proportion of requests which were met within the target time.

In addition, the people aspect of the participation principle is not followed through in Performance Standard 2a, Polling Station set-up. This, rightly, requires Returning Officers to consider accessibility issues when choosing polling station locations. However, it does not require Returning Officers to consider the impact on turnout of the distances people have to travel to vote. There is growing evidence that the further people have to travel to vote, the lower turnout is (particularly outside of general elections); for example see https://www.libdemvoice.org/what-do-the-academics-say-more-polling-stations-can-raise-turnout-25200.html.

Performance Standard 2a would therefore better meet the underlying principles for the standards if it required Returning Officers to review turnout data and consider whether to make any changes to polling station numbers and locations.

Finally, on a slightly different point and given that 100% checking of postal voting identifiers is sometimes a cause of controversy, I would like to add my support to your proposed inclusion of this in the performance standards.


Mark Pack
Former member, Electoral Commission Political Parties Panel and co-author, “The General Election Agents’ Manual”

Electoral Commission: Consultation on Performance Standards for Returning Officers

Posted in Election law | Also tagged and | 1 Comment

What do the academics say? More polling stations can raise turnout

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research.

Earlier this year I wrote about the merits of experimenting with increasing the number of polling stations:

This is a greatly under-researched area, and has not ever been tested directly in Britain. However, aside from the common-sense thought that shorter travel distance to polling stations may increase likelihood to vote, there is also some practical evidence from an analysis of voters in Brent over 20 years: “we conclude that the local geography of the polling station can have a significant impact on voter turnout and that there should be

Posted in Election law and What do the academics say? | Also tagged and | 3 Comments

A reason to be sceptical of what the public tells opinion pollsters

Much can be learnt from opinion polls, but a reminder of why not all results should be taken at face value is this:

If there were local council elections in your area on May 5th, how likely would you be to vote in them, where 0 means you will definitely not vote, and 10 means you definitely will vote?

10 – will definitely vote: 52%

This poll is not unusual in showing more people saying they will certainly vote than seems credible – and polls before previous elections (i.e. where we know the actual subsequent turnout) have often shown the number of …

Posted in Polls | Also tagged | 3 Comments

The two electoral tests the Coalition should run

During 2011, the political reform agenda is likely to be dominated by a spring referendum on the alternative vote and by the government fleshing out its promise to bring in elections by proportional representation for an elected Upper House. Significant though the impact of both the alternative vote and Upper House elections may be, there are two much smaller ideas the government should look to pilot during the year because a healthy democracy also requires healthy turnouts; 2011 should see weekend voting and increasing the number of polling stations tested out.

Raising turnout in public elections is a widely …

Posted in Election law and Op-eds | Also tagged | 7 Comments

What do the academics say? Influencing people to vote

During the 2005-10 Parliament I blogged several times pointing out how the trends in turnout in British elections were more positive than many of the media reports suggested. One reason for this was simply an interest in the gap between the widely accepted clichés in political and media circles about turnout and the reality. The other was that the gap is not simply of academic interest, as misplaced stories of turnout can in turn alter turnout.

Whether it is because of a herd effect (you know that other people are voting, so you copy them) or social pressure (you know that other people …

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The class dimension to turnout

It’s been a long established pattern of British politics that the higher you go up the social scale, the higher turnout is in elections. The 2010 general election is no exception but looking through the numbers one class dimension comes out. Overall turnout collapsed after 1997 and has since had a modest recovery, but the pattern of that recovery across the classes is far from even.

Amongst DEs, turnout in 2010 was 57%, still 9 points down on the 66% turnout in 1997. It was a similar picture amongst C2s (58%, still 11 points down) and C1s (66%, still 9 points …

Posted in General Election | Also tagged | 1 Comment

Scope calls for online voting to assist disabled voters

The BBC reports:

Online voting should be introduced to assist disabled voters after access to polling stations failed to improve for this year’s election, a charity said.

A Scope survey suggested more than two thirds of the general election polling stations failed basic access tests.

Ms Scott said the country’s voting system “isn’t working for other voters either,” demonstrated by “scores of people queuing outside polling stations” at the recent general election.

“Over the last decade there has been next to no improvement in the overall accessibility of polling stations or postal voting,” she said.

“There is a pressing need for clearer accountability

Posted in Election law | Also tagged and | 4 Comments

An electoral problem

The following data is from MORI’s aggregate polling 6 April – 6 May and shows how levels of Liberal Democrat support and turnout varied across different age groups:

MORI election data graph

This problem isn’t new to the 2010 general election, though the pattern was less neat in 2005. It does raise an interesting question for the party’s get out the vote efforts though, both in terms of technology and targeting.

Some places have made very successful use of technology such as text messaging to …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 17 Comments

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% …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 14 Comments

Does the location of polling stations change how people vote?

Daniel Finkelstein poses the question, based on the finding of an academic survey:

The fact that polling stations are generally located in schools and other public buildings influences how people vote . It makes proposals to protect school funding more potent.

More in his post over on The Times.

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Good news on turnout and engagement

Two pieces of cheery news.

First, from the latest Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

I am so disillusioned with politics that I am seriously thinking of not voting at all in the coming general election:

Agree 15%
Disagree 73%

All things considered, 15% is a pretty low figure.

Second, from a survey of 18-25 year olds:

A survey of 18-25 year-olds, commissioned by new media age and conducted by Lightspeed Research, found 46% of those aged between 18 and 21 believe increased political activity online has stimulated their interest in the election, with the figure at 41% for 22-25 year-olds…

Posted in General Election, Online politics and Polls | 1 Comment

Latest turnout news: bring on the curate’s egg

A rather mixed tale from the latest election turnout figures I’ve been looking at. Given how I’ve previously blogged about how figures showing turnout on the up usually get overlooked or misquoted by the media, it is only fair to present the less good evidence too.

First, Glasgow North East. Widely reported as having the lowest turnout ever in a Scottish by-election, the 33% turnout figure is certainly not good. The fall on the last general election, at 11%, puts it in the mid-range of Scottish by-elections this Parliament though, with the other changes having been -4, -6, -12 and -20. …

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Electoral fact of the day: turnout and age

“Nearly three-quarters (74%) of people aged 65 or over said that they had voted in the European Parliamentary elections, compared with only 13% of those aged 18 to 24.”

(From the Electoral Commission’s report in to the June 2009 elections, p.26.)

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Weekend voting: will this be the next trend in trying to raise turnout at elections?

Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:

Over the last few years a wide range of attempts have been made to raise turnout at elections in the UK. The broad conclusion is very simple: all-postal ballots raise turnout significantly (albeit at the cost of various drawbacks) and nothing else that has been tried does so. E-voting, early voting, voting by text, and many others: all been tried, all flopped.

However, there are signs that moving to voting at the weekend may be coming back on the electoral administration agenda.

It is easy to see why weekend voting may appeal. Fewer people work at the weekend which could mean people are more likely to have time to go and vote, plus in turn candidates are more likely to be able to get volunteers out campaigning on polling day reminding people to vote.

The main drawbacks are also fairly straight-forward.

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , and | 13 Comments

The plans to cut election expenses may be dead but there are still lessons to learn

Blink and you might have missed it: first details of a discussion about ways to cut the costs of running elections are leaked and then Jack Straw promptly disowns them and kills off the discussion.

Given how weak the proposals were – and the relatively small sums involved – I think that was the right decision by Straw and, although he and Liberal Democrats are usually not the best of friends, I think there’ll be widespread agreement in the Lib Dems with his comment, “Democracy has to be paid for”. Ideas such as replacing the general election freepost leaflets with one booklet would go quite against the current appetitie from the public to hear more from individual candidates about what the believe and what they want to do.

There are, though, three lessons to learn from the ideas that were floated.

Posted in Election law and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 8 Comments

What the media didn’t tell you about the Bedford Mayor election

Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:

Good news, though you’d be hard press to spot it from the media reports. On a like-for-like basis turnout was up significantly in the Bedford Mayor election this week.

In the first Mayor election, in October 2002, turnout was just 25% whilst this Thursday it was up to 31%. Six percentage points is a big increase, particularly from a base of only 25%.

Ah, you might be saying – but wasn’t turnout higher in the Mayor election in between those two? Yes, in the May 2007 Mayoral election in Bedford turnout was 41%. However, that election coincided …

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What do the academics say? Persuading someone to vote comes with a free bonus

Welcome to another in my occasional series on useful, interesting or controversial findings from academic studies of our politics and elections.

Today it’s turnout and the question, “Is voting habit forming?” In other words, if you persuade someone to go out and vote in one election, do you get a bonus benefit in that they are also then more likely to vote in future elections?

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Jenny Watson responds to criticism of her speech

On Tuesday evening I blogged about the speech given by Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, criticising her comments about turnout in British elections:

I was rather surprised at the introduction to your speech earlier today to the UCL Constitution Unit where you painted what seems to me a very misleading picture of what is happening to turnout in British elections.

I appreciate that is a fairly strong criticism, so I hope you won’t mind me justifying it by taking parts of your speech and commenting on them in detail.

You can read my detailed comments in the original

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The Electoral Commission gets it wrong on turnout

Here’s the email I’ve sent to Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission:

Dear Jenny Watson,

I was rather surprised at the introduction to your speech earlier today to the UCL Constitution Unit where you painted what seems to me a very misleading picture of what is happening to turnout in British elections.

I appreciate that is a fairly strong criticism, so I hope you won’t mind me justifying it by taking parts of your speech and commenting on them in detail.

After talking about recent political scandals, you said:

One of the immediate measures of the impact of these events is turnout at the recent elections. Turnout for the European elections across the UK was just 34 per cent, against a European average of 43 per cent.

However, turnout in the UK has been lower than the European average in every European election since and including the first one in 1979. The mere fact of it being lower again does not tell us about the “impact of these events”.

The one piece of evidence you present on that is wrong, for you say:

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 12 Comments

Did you see the reports about the public getting keener to vote in European elections?

No, I didn’t either. But the odd thing is, there’s plenty of evidence that the public were keener to vote in European electins than previously. The evidence is certainly patchy and incomplete, but the uniformity of the turnout gloom and doom stories seems to me to say rather more about the media’s fixed image (‘turnout? must be down’) than about the actual evidence.

The key is to compare like-for-like data. For example, in several parts of England the last European election were run using an all-postal ballot, in which all possible voters were sent a ballot paper that they could then …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 4 Comments

How good was Obama’s campaign?

Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:

I’ve blogged before about some of the myths around Obama’s campaign – the exaggerated tales of seas of small donors and soaring turnout. Now it’s time to look at how the votes played out across the country and see what it tells us.

The US Presidential election is (with some minor exceptions) a first past the post election run across each state, with the winner scooping all the spoils. It doesn’t matter whether you win New York state by 1% or 99%; either way the result counts the same in the tally towards winning the Presidency. Therefore, when it comes to targeting campaign activities, there is a strong incentive to ignore states that are likely to be either landslide victories or defeats and instead pour efforts into the marginal areas. These ‘swing states’ in the US political parlance therefore have much the same place in campaign calculations as marginal constituencies have in the UK.

Traditionally, that targeting has primarily involved deciding where to run TV adverts, where to direct direct mail and where to send your campaign’s big names for visits. Plot Obama and McCain’s visits for 2008, for example, and you see a huge cluster in the key swing states.

The broad story of the Obama campaign is that it was well run, highly successful and used the internet in particular to mobilise large amounts of grassroots campaigning. Up against a McCain campaign that had far less money and is seen as having been much weaker, you might therefore have expected to see a fair amount of variation in the swing to Obama between different parts of the country. A good campaign, targeting its efforts well, would garner extra support in key swing areas.

The evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

Posted in LDVUSA | Also tagged and | 12 Comments

Early voting: why did we bother spending years (and lots of money) on piloting it?

For several years, the idea of letting people vote in person ahead of polling day (e.g. at the Town Hall or in a local shopping centre) was tested out in a range of different British elections. Lots of time and money went on the tests, all of which came up with the same answer: it makes almost no difference to turnout, and the money that it takes up could have gone on other measures which would have been just as good, if not better, at raising turnout (e.g. general publicity campaigns reminding pepole to vote).

The pilots themselves went on long …

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Does turnout in reality TV shows exceed that in elections?

After Mark debunked the American election turnout myth, Hywel points out some harsh realities about voter turnout in reality shows.

An often cited reason for gimmicks like online, text and phone voting in public elections is that more people vote when voting is easier. Any security concerns are often waved away with claims that “more people vote in Big Brother etc” than in public elections, particularly local elections.

If such claims are to be used as the basis for significant changes to elections then their basis needs examining closely

Take Saturday’s X Factor semi-final. If you regard the electorate as …

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Reasons to be optimistic about turnout

Cross-posted from The Wardman Wire:

Whilst claims of huge increases in US electoral turnout this year have turned out to be myths, with turnout only rising by around 1% on 2004, the continued gradual improvement in turnout in British elections is going largely unremarked.

The improvement is not yet sufficient to cause rejoicing, but there are solid grounds for being cautiously optimistic, particularly as the next general election is likely to be the first since 1992 in which the outcome is in real doubt before the votes are counted, which should give a further boost to turnout levels.

The evidence for …

Posted in Op-eds | 6 Comments

Warning: don’t believe the American Presidential election turnout myth

You’ve seen the stories: massively effective political machines, registering and then mobilising people in unprecedented numbers, leading to big early voting, huge queues at the polls on the day and colossal turnout.

One problem though: it’s a myth. For all the numerous reports, headlines and footage we’ve had telling us the story of turnout soaring up, up and away, the truth is starting to emerge that, actually, turnout was pretty much the same as four years ago. Overall it looks as if turnout will be 61-62%, only slightly up on 2004’s 61% turnout. 2004 was a relatively high turnout year, …

Posted in LDVUSA and News | Also tagged | 20 Comments

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