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Voter turnout: Size isn’t everything

How do you solve low turnout? How about by focusing on something less boring instead.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Books

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The big question of the UK General Election campaign is shaping up to be, not ‘who will win?’ but ‘who will vote?’ As the political parties scrap over marginal seats and newspaper editorials argue that the ‘one goal’ parties should share from the outset is an increase in voter turnout from the historic low of 2001 (1), it is clear that Election 2005, due to take place on 5 May, is a numbers game, in which the quality of political arguments will count for far less than the quantity of votes.

Does it have to be like this? The fact that only 59 per cent of the electorate voted in the 2001 General Election delivered a shock to the political system. Turning Out or Turning Off?, a report by the Electoral Reform Society, opens with the following grim summary:

‘In the 2001 General Election only 3 out of every 5 electors bothered to vote. The turnout of 59 per cent was the lowest for any General Election since 1918, and as that was a year when many electors were still returning from military service in Europe, the 2001 turnout can be considered the worst on record. For the first time since 1923 the number who did not vote was greater than the number that voted for the winning party.’ (2)

The actual figures for 2001 were lower than even the most pessimistic estimates, which warned of a turnout of 60 per cent. And the widely noted victory of the ‘Apathy Party’ – the fact that more people refused to vote than voted for the party of government – gave a stark indication of British people’s disengagement from the political process. A governing party relies on a sense of public connection and popular mandate for its legitimacy to run the country: when the majority of voters have tacitly expressed their non-support for any political party, this makes the position of the political elite unnervingly fragile.

Low turnout to a General Election is a problem. But the narrow focus on voting numbers that has followed the 2001 election obscures the reasons why it is a problem, and the search for solutions to low turnout only makes things worse. A number of books and reports produced over the past four years reach the same sobering conclusions: that turnout in UK elections is falling, that the cause of this is deep and complex, and that the attempted quick fixes, such as postal voting, e-voting or moving polling day to a weekend, do not really work.

Yet without fail, these same books and reports go on to consider more quick fixes, or slightly longer-term technical solutions: postal voting, e-voting, moving polling day, changing the electoral system, extending the franchise to 16-year-olds, quota systems to ensure the representation of women and ethnic minorities, experimenting with compulsory voting or incentive voting, bringing the polls ‘to the people’ by setting up store in supermarkets…somehow doing something to get the numbers up. The analysis of turnout has yielded some extremely useful insights into the depth and scale of Britain’s political malaise – but its focus on the numbers leads it to gloss over the problem, and invent more banal tricks to persuade us to use our vote.

If there is a solution to Britain’s crisis in voter turnout, it does not lie at the level of merely boosting turnout. Turnout can only be improved through re-igniting political life; and this can only be done by confronting the causes of our current political malaise. By examining the causes of low turnout, it is clear that the issue is not the number of voters, but what it is that they have to vote for. Low turnout is a problem, because it reflects the level of public disengagement from the political system – but simply getting more people to vote is no solution.

Why falling turnout is a problem

To understand the fear engendered within the British political class by the turnout trough of 2001, it is worth putting the figures in some context. Turnout in UK General Elections has never been a problem. It has generally fluctuated between 70 and 80 per cent of the voting age population, with a mean turnout of 75 per cent. This is less than some Western countries with historically high turnouts, such as Belgium and Italy, and more than others – most notably the US presidential elections, where turnout has tended to be in the region of 50 per cent (3). It is generally accepted that the mark of a ‘good’ election is not simply the level of turnout – for the simple reason that it is possible to ensure very high turnouts through systems of compulsory voting, as in Australia, but forcing people to vote does not ensure a healthier democracy.

Turnout at UK General Elections: 1918-2001

Valid votes as percentage of electorate

UK election turnouts

* Figures for Ireland not Northern Ireland
Sources: British Electoral Facts: 1832-1999, Parliamentary Research Services (4)

However over the past 50 years, in Britain and worldwide, turnout has been falling. Even in the 1997 General Election, a turning-point in British electoral history that heralded the collapse of the Conservative Party and the landslide victory of New Labour, turnout was at its lowest level since the Second World War. What the 1997 election signalled, and 2001 confirmed, was that a fundamental shift was underway to do with the British electorate’s relationship with parliamentary politics. The structures and ideologies that, since 1945, had ensured high, stable and quite predictable voting behaviour in General Elections no longer held in place.

British election turnout graph

Source: Electoral Reform Society (5)

worldwide turnout

Worldwide turnout, 1945-2001. Source: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (6)

Analyses of turnout indicate all kinds of influences upon people’s decision to vote, and how they use that vote. Personal costs and benefits, the influence of family members, voting ‘habits’ learnt and then repeated – all of these play a role in individuals’ voting behaviour. But as Mark N Franklin points out in his study of international voter turnout since 1945, ‘While voting is a matter of individual decisions, turnout is an aggregate-level phenomenon. It is a feature of an electorate not a voter…. An electorate is not just a voter writ large any more than an economy is a consumer writ large’ (7). Ultimately, what encourages people to vote is a sense that voting is a meaningful activity, which bears a real relationship to the course of politics and the future of society. It is that sense that has been lost today.

In her new book Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behaviour, Pippa Norris summarises the seminal theories of ‘social cleavage’ and voting behaviour, developed during the 1960s by Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan. These theories emphasised the relationship between deeply entrenched social divisions, including ‘the regional cleavages of center-periphery, the class inequalities between workers and owners, and the sectarian cleavages over church and state’, and support for political parties.

For Lipset and Rokkan, explains Norris, these social identities ‘formed the basic building blocks of party support in Western Europe’, which meant that party systems in many European countries seemed to exhibit a ‘rocklike stability’ – until the 1970s, when the advent of ‘post-industrial society’ shook everything up. Norris explains:

‘If the rocklike ballast of class and religion no longer anchored voters to parties, then this change promised to have significant consequences for patterns of growing volatility in electoral behaviour and in party competition, opening the door for more split-ticket voting across different levels, the occasional sudden rise of protest parties, more vote-switching within and across the left-right blocs of party families, and the growing influence of short-term events, party strategy, candidates and leaders, and media coverage in determining the outcome of election campaigns.’ (8)

Such an explanation has the virtue of going beyond speculation about what makes individuals vote and the pros and cons of formal electoral process, and grounding voting behaviour firmly within the structure of society. But there is a more straightforward explanation than this. General Elections, in Western society since 1945, were fought out over a clear political divide: the politics of left and right. How a person voted was intimately tied up with who they were – where they lived, what job they had, their friends and their family. It was not an act to be carried out in isolation from the rest of one’s life: voting, and how you voted, was as much a part of everyday life as was politics.

What changed was not the advent of the fanciful ‘post-industrial society’ but the defeat of the working class and the end of the politics of left and right. The defeat of the official labour movement in the 1980s, symbolised in Britain by the failure of the miners’ strike, alongside the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, indicated the end of the road for the left and brought to an end the historic battle between alternative visions of society. The left collapsed and the right, without an opponent against which it could cohere itself, crumbled.

1997 was a landmark election for Britain because, with the election of New Labour, it formally affirmed the end of even a pretence of socialism in British party politics. Tony Blair brought the nebulous ‘third way’ and the final nail in the coffin of left-wing politics; and with the old enemy gone, the right crumbled beneath the tired grey face of John Major. A similar process took place, albeit in slightly different forms, throughout Western Europe and the USA, with considerable consequences for these established political systems. The impact on voting behaviour was not the most significant consequence of this upheaval, though it was perhaps the most predictable.

In a society like Britain, where people’s allegiance to left or right has been intimately bound up with everything from where they work and live to how they vote and behave, the collapse of that political framework and the social solidarities it engenders will clearly affect how they perceive the meaning of their vote. Voting is no longer a clear expression of identity, solidarity and social interest, taking a stand on one side of a polarised political debate – it becomes an individualistic, consumerist activity, choosing between niggling differences in policy on health or education. The question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ comes to the fore much more directly than it ever did previously, as does the idea that, so far as the individual goes, one little vote won’t make much difference. And for politicians, the need to encourage individuals to vote – not just to vote for them, but to vote at all – seems far more urgent.

In one respect, low turnout at a general election is not a threat to the political class. It is not a direct challenge to its authority, in the way that a political movement is; it implies passive acquiescence more than active hostility. But it is a very real problem, in that it starkly undermines the legitimacy of the political class, and in particular the party of government. All studies of turnout recognise that the dwindling turnout at elections reflects a general process of disengagement from formal politics. People do not refuse to vote to express their satisfaction in a political system: they refuse to vote to express their lack of interest, commitment and respect.

While there are clear limitations to poll data that seek to express the British public’s views of politics, the fact that polls consistently demonstrate low levels of interest or trust in politics and politicians helps to illustrate this disengagement. A Eurobarometer poll in spring 2004 found that only 19 per cent of people claimed that they ‘tend to trust’ the British government – the same proportion who tended to trust big companies and the European Union. A slightly higher proportion (20 per cent) trust the press, and 25 per cent trust the British parliament – compared with 59 per cent who trust the radio, and 54 per cent who trust the television. Only 10 per cent said they tended to trust political parties (9). It is a telling that we would tend to put our trust in the media rather than our elected representatives.

MORI data collected for the second stage of a report by the Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society, An Audit of Political Engagement, found that only 52 per cent of people were ‘absolutely certain’ that they would vote in the General Election (10). Less than half felt that they knew about politics, and 53 per cent claimed to be interested in politics (although only 13 per cent of these were ‘very interested’). When asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘When people like me get involved in politics, they really can change the way that the country is run’, a similar proportion tended to agree and disagree with this statement (29 per cent and 31 per cent respectively), while only seven per cent strongly agreed and 10 per cent strongly disagreed. Strikingly, 20 per cent registered a response of ‘neither agree nor disagree’. This indicates neither hostility nor positive expectation of politics: if anything, it shows confusion and uninterest about what politics is or does, and what it could possibly have to do with our lives.

The palpable lack of engagement with politics, and the widespread distrust of politicians and political institutions, is clearly problematic for those running the country. It raises the uncomfortable questions: Who are they running the country for? Whose authority do they have to make decisions of national or international importance? Why are they doing what they are doing anyway? Without popular engagement and support, even at the most formal level, the political class is continually working in the dark, without a sense of what expectations it should be fulfilling or what response its actions might provoke. When there is a reaction, such as the ‘Not in my name’ mass demonstrations that greeted the Iraq war in 2003, it tend to be a negative and nebulous one that poses no alternative and therefore no threat, but which adds to the sense of the political elite’s isolation and illegitimacy.

Political disengagement is a more general problem, which is deeply corrosive of public life. That people do not vote in the current period is understandable – that they do not trust government or business is arguably more so. But when they are more likely to trust the army, the church and the telly than they are the British parliament, this cannot be good for democracy. More importantly, the fact that any institution or public figure in today’s society as easily inspires suspicion as it does trust or support reveals a worrying trend that spiked has termed ‘The New Cynicism’. As Mick Hume has written:

‘The New Cynicism in the media reflects and reinforces a wider public attitude. People are not only cynical about politicians such as Blair or Howard, or particular political parties. They are increasingly cynical about political action itself. The assumption that they are “all lying bastards” who cannot be believed easily extends into a shoulder-shrugging acceptance that there is no cause worth believing in today.’ (11)

Falling voter turnout merely reflects a more fundamental political malaise, which eschews positive ideas and alternatives in any area of society. That is why turnout is a problem, and why boosting turnout is no solution. The political climate being what it is, those who vote in the 2005 General Election are arguably no more engaged in politics than those who do not – the election remains a tawdry contest between similar-looking parties offering petty consumer choices, and offers little of interest to people outside of Whitehall and the media.

The swathe of analysis about turnout following the 2001 catastrophe seems to understand this general problem: there is nothing written about falling turnout that does not also discuss broader political disengagement. So why does the search for solutions and quick-fix gimmicks still carry on?

Solutions make things worse

The recent, in-depth discussion of the turnout crisis recognises that politics has changed – if the explanations for this change are somewhat garbled. It understands that people have real reasons for voting or not voting, and that their unwillingness to vote is a consequence, not of laziness or stupidity, but a more profound process of disengagement from formal politics. It accepts that tweaking parliamentary systems and voting processes is not going to make a fundamental difference.

But it suggests doing it anyway. And in this respect, the debate about how to solve the problem of low turnout is a bigger threat to democracy than the turnout itself.

The narrow focus on turnout, and solutions designed to get the number of voters up, implicitly lays the blame for our political malaise on the voter while also looking to the voter to solve it. It is a peculiar mix of contempt and flattery. Flattery comes in the form of the pretence that people might be disengaged from formal party politics but they are really quite engaged in ‘other’ politics. It is pointed out that we are quite likely to sign petitions or donate to charity (44 per cent in the last two or three years, according to the Electoral Commission’s poll), boycott consumer goods for political, ethical or environmental reasons (20 per cent), or have ‘discussed politics or political news with someone else’ (38 per cent) (12).

However, this flattery tends to be shortlived. Apart from the fact that such indicators themselves seem shockingly low (only 38 per cent have discussed politics or political news with someone else in the past two or three years?), it is clearly the case that signing one of the many petitions floating around in the current period – for better school dinners, perhaps, or to register disapproval of the war in Iraq – is hardly the same thing as casting one’s democratic right to vote. The fact that attempts to spin the ‘people are engaged really, but in a different way’ line tends to appear in documents that are nonetheless focused around boosting voter turnout indicates that ‘different’ political engagement is a fantasy.

The contempt for the voter that is expressed by the turnout debate is summed up by the free-and-easy use of the word ‘apathy’ to describe people’s reluctance to come to the ballot box. To be apathetic means to be insensitive to suffering, passionless, and ‘indolent of mind’ (13). The clear implication is that voters are too stupid, lazy or uncaring to turn out and cast the vote that previous generations fought so long and hard for.

Every now and then, politicians and commentators take off their conciliatory gloves to betray their true feelings about our nation of non-voters. ‘I, for one, am driven to a reluctant conclusion: our democracy is becoming obese, the body politic grows fat and sluggish, through under-use and lack of vigorous exercise’, fulminated UK pensions minister Malcolm Wicks in an extraordinary outburst in 2004 (14). To Wicks, the ‘Apathy Party’ is made up of ‘a coalition of the cynical, the disaffected, and the sad’, which ‘includes the “you’re all the same” tendency, the “sorry, mate, I’m too busy” caucus and the “nothing to do with me” alliance’. To stop this party gaining ground, Wicks proposed the stick approach of compulsory voting: ‘Why should someone be allowed to exercise all the rights of citizenship – the right to the welfare state, the right to benefits etc – without being required to exercise a complementary duty, the duty to vote?’

An editorial in the Guardian newspaper following the announcement of polling day was careful not to castigate the apathetic, but rather to feel our pain. ‘We have to think harder thoughts than many of us sometimes do about the balance of economic prosperity, social justice, individual liberty and international stability that would make this a country to be optimistic about’, the paper admonished, vicar-like. ‘To do that, we have to think not just about our own individual comfort and family aspirations, but also those of others, and to think about the common good, here and abroad. We have to ask ourselves what is really wrong with this country – and decide which result would best equip us to deal with that.’ In case that scared anybody off, it immediately added a rider: ‘Maybe this is too much to hope for.’ (15)

The myth that people do not vote because they are too stupid or lazy should be dispelled by the most superficial analysis of the politics of turnout. But it is only this myth that justifies the string of ‘solutions’ to low turnout, which focus on finding ways to make voting easier or somehow more accessible. These can be broadly categorised into three groups: techno-fixes, system overhauls, and desperate measures.

  • Techno-fixes

The most popular solutions to boosting turnout are those that involve making voting easier and more convenient, through the use of postal voting or e-voting, or moving polling day from a workday to a weekend. But do these initiatives work?

As Pippa Norris explains in her contribution to Current Issues in Voter Turnout, a report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), evidence is only recently available about the effectiveness of such initiatives, from pilot schemes conducted in local government elections in England in 2000 and 2002, and on 1 May 2003 – ‘characteristically low-salience events where only a third of the electorate usually vote’ (16). Norris reports that in constituencies that offered all-postal voting facilities, where the electoral authorities automatically send out ballot papers for postal voting to all those on the electoral register during an extended period before election day and there is no alternative, turnout was about 50 per cent.

By contrast, in constituencies in which the pilot schemes used remote e-voting (which she defines as the transmission of a secure and secret official ballot to electoral officials via various electronic information and communication technologies, including computers, touch-tone terrestrial telephones, cell phones, text messaging devices and digital television, from a site located away from the polling station, whether from home, the workplace or a public access point) combined with traditional polling stations, remote e-voting proved ineffective in improving overall turnout.

From these limited experiments, it can be quickly deduced that postal voting is a definite turnout-booster, while e-voting is something of a damp squib (perhaps because it appeals to the younger voter, who is less likely than older generations to vote anyway). The UK government has leapt on the postal voting trick, and pushed it into use in the forthcoming general election.

But if postal voting boosts turnout, it does so at a price. It turns voting into a highly passive activity, to be treated in the same way as banal everyday actions such as paying your gas bill. If people who are not prepared to cast their vote at the polling station will at least fill in and post their ballot, can they be said to be any more engaged than those who do not vote at all?

Postal voting is also, as we have seen, wide open to corruption. The Birmingham postal vote scandal of June 2004, relating to six seats won by Labour in the local elections, looms large in the discussion of postal voting in this General Election. Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey QC, on 4 April 2005, said evidence of ‘massive, systematic and organised fraud’ in the campaign had made a mockery of the election and ruled that not less than 1,500 votes had been cast fraudulently in the city (17). He said the system was ‘hopelessly insecure’ and expressed regret that recent warnings about the failings had been dismissed by the government as ‘scaremongering’. As an editorial in The Times (London) thundered on 6 April:

‘The Prime Minister asserted [on 5 April] that elections were about “values”. One would have thought that the principle that elections should be free and fair in every seat was an exceptionally worthwhile value. It is a shameful disgrace that on this polling day – May 5, 2005 – there is the danger that this will not necessarily happen.’ (18)

On the question of moving the voting day, the Electoral Reform Society reports on two pilot schemes: one in Watford in 2000, and the other in Camden in 2002. The Watford pilot took place the weekend after normal Thursday voting, and turnout fell; in Camden, ‘the opportunity to vote the weekend before the usual Thursday passed almost unnoticed’ (19). One might conclude from this that moving polling day is a complete waste of time – the Electoral Reform Society goes the other way, and proposes a ‘national roll-out’ of weekend voting to test whether it really works or not. Whatever – it seems unlikely that people reluctant to be a little late for one working day because they are exercising their democratic rights will be more compelled to give up part of a precious weekend.

From what we know about techno-fixes, it seems that they either don’t work, or when they do they are an invitation to corruption. All of them rest on the assumption that it is people’s laziness stopping them from casting their vote. Much is made of the fact that people (even young people!) do vote for contestants in reality TV shows like Big Brother, and a depressing discussion goes on and on about how politics could learn from these shows to make voting easier, more technical, more fun. In reality however, voting in an election is no more difficult than voting in Big Brother, and it should be rather more meaningful. The fact that people are finding it less meaningful is the problem.

  • System overhauls

The obsessive focus on turnout has led to attempts to correlate turnout levels with the kind of election system used, whether that is first-past-the-post in the UK or those that use more of a proportional representation (PR) approach. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, argues the need to switch to PR with the use of a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which allows voters to choose individual candidates in order of preference. Others propose strengthening local democracy, to give people more of a say, or introducing quota systems for women and ethnic minorities, to make political parties more directly ‘representative’ of the population.

There are good arguments against first-past-the-post, and for proportional representation. But these are about making British politics more democratic, not just about getting bums on seats. For organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, which have long campaigned for a more democratic process, it is clearly tempting to argue the case for a new voting system in terms of a measure to boost low turnout. But this distorts and degrades the argument about why PR is more democratic than first-past-the-post, instead posing PR as a cynical means to the end of higher turnouts.

The idea that strengthening local democracy will make people more engaged with politics is commonly floated, and indeed New Labour has attempted to put it into practice, through the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the London Mayor, and regional assemblies in Wales and the North East. Yet it is still the case that people care more about national politics than local affairs; and despite these reforms, people are not turning out in droves to vote at local elections. Quota systems to ensure that political parties field more women and ethnic minority candidates are both patronising, and undemocratic. They assume that the electorate is incapable of looking beyond people who look ‘just like them’ to choose the candidate who best represents their interests, and demand that electoral procedures should be rigged accordingly.

  • Desperate measures

Such is the concern about turnout in the UK that we have started to hear proposals that are desperate, if not simply daft. Two of these are worth briefly noting here: the establishment of compulsory voting or incentive voting, and proposals to extend the franchise to people younger than the current voting age of 18.

It seems unlikely that any government now would start fining people for not voting, or bribing them to do so – this would be too transparent an attempt to get the numbers up by any means necessary, and further corrode the legitimacy of the electoral process. In any case, compulsory voting is not guaranteed to increase the numbers voting for the main parties – people can ‘actively’ abstain from casting their vote, resulting in large numbers of votes for ‘None of the above’. However, it should be remembered that establishing compulsory voting is the logical conclusion of an obsessive focus on turnout – if the problem is assumed to be simply the numbers not voting, rather than the reasons why they are not voting, the pragmatic argument that people should therefore be forced to vote is bound to follow.

Extending the franchise to 16-year-olds has been considered by the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Reform Society, among others, and over the past few years has gone from being widely regarded as daft to being seen as a serious proposition. As an immediate turnout-booster, extending the franchise to young people makes no sense – 18- to 24-year-olds are already the group least likely to vote, and there seems little reason to suppose that 16-year-olds would take a substantially different view. Enfranchising 16-year-olds-could well result in an absolute drop in turnout, as the voting age population is expanded but only a small proportion of the newly enfranchised turns out to votes.

This is not necessarily a short-term problem: Mark N Franklin’s study of turnout persuasively shows, through figures taken from UK elections, that the addition of each new cohort voting in General Elections has been less likely to vote than the previous cohort. In marked contrast to the extension of the franchise to women, working-class men and blacks in America, all of whom fought hard for the right to vote, the inclusion of younger age groups has been a top-down initiative that is then passively accepted – and this is reflected in the younger groups’ relative reluctance to use their vote. Franklin argues:

‘Lowering the voting age to eighteen in most countries (the only franchise extension in the history of many of them that was not demanded by those to whom the franchise was extended) brought a…cost in return for no very obvious gains. Indeed, looked at with the benefit of hindsight, this reform was a really bad idea. It turns out that the well-intentioned decision to enfranchise young adults one election earlier than previously had the unanticipated consequence of giving rise to a lifetime of disenfranchisement for many of the intended beneficiaries.’ (20)

Strangely, however, he goes on to note that ‘the most promising reform that might restore higher turnout would be to lower the voting age still further, perhaps to fifteen’ – at which age children ‘would face their first election while still in high school’, learning to vote in the context of ‘a civics class project where they were graded’. It is the pragmatism of this kind of approach – get to the kids while they have teachers to tell them what to do and give them marks for being good citizens – which makes it increasingly popular among those wringing their hands over turnout. But what is the principle at stake? What does it do to the value of the vote, to pose voting in terms of a high-school project, a right exercised by children because adults are too recalcitrant to do it?

Conclusion: Stop focusing on turnout

Low turnout in the UK is a problem, because it reflects the extent of political disengagement. This disengagement will not be solved simply by boosting the number of voters. In fact, solutions aimed simply at boosting numbers make the problem worse, by patronising and blaming the electorate, and making elections into a numbers game at the expense of any clash of ideas.

Perhaps the clearest example of contempt for the electorate that is expressed through the obsession with low turnout and the search for solutions is the argument that if ‘ordinary’ people do not bother to use their vote, the process will be distorted by those who care passionately about the wrong issues. The spectre of the British National Party (BNP) routinely appears as an attempt to scare people into voting. This profoundly negative idea – that people have a duty to use a vote that they do not consider important just to stop those who do care about their vote from electing the wrong people – symbolises just how little regard those at the heart of the election process have for the positive importance of votes and voting.

This is not about being nostalgic for a golden age when voting really meant something. It is about creating the kind of political culture in which voting, and democracy, has real meaning for today – rather than allowing the vote to be stripped of all meaning as part of a crass attempt to ensure more people cast their ballots. The only way to resolve the turnout crisis is to put the turnout debate behind us, and focus on the more profound problem of political engagement. Political principles and new ideas are what make a good election; and until it can be established that people can make a difference to society, rather than simply exercising a narrow consumer choice, it doesn’t really matter whether they vote or not.

The question we should be asking ourselves and political candidates in the forthcoming General Election should not be ‘Should we vote?’ but ‘What should we be voting for?’

Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behavior, by Pippa Norris, Cambridge University Press (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, by Mark N. Franklin, Cambridge University Press (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: Election 2005

(1) Time to get serious, Guardian, 6 April 2005

(2) Turning out or turning off?, Electoral Reform Society

(3) Current Issues in Voter Turnout, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)

(4) UK Election Statistics: 1918-2004, House of Commons, 28 July 2004

(5) Turning out or turning off?, Electoral Reform Society

(6) Voter turnout since 1945: a global report, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)

(7) Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, Mark N. Franklin, Cambridge University Press , p213

(8) Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behaviour, Pippa Norris, Cambridge University Press, p97

(9) Turning out or turning off?, Electoral Reform Society

(10) An audit of political engagement 2, The Hansard Society and The Electoral Commission

(11) The most dangerous ‘ism’ now is the new cynicism, by Mick Hume

(12) An audit of political engagement 2, The Hansard Society and The Electoral Commission

(13) A-pathetic excuse, by Mick Hume

(14) Compulsory voting: turnout is not the problem, by Jennie Bristow

(15) Time to get serious, Guardian, 6 April 2005

(16) Current Issues in Voter Turnout, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)

(17) Judge upholds vote-rigging claims, BBC News, 4 April 2005

(18) Votes and values, The Times (London), 6 April 2005

(19) Turning out or turning off?, Electoral Reform Society

(20) Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, Mark N. Franklin, Cambridge University Press , p213

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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