Sunday, 1 June 2014

People & PM 1-2-1 Part 2 Less than 25% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010

People & PM 1-2-1 – A way to make a 2-way connection between people and politicians. Part 2 

Levels of non-voting are even worse than we are told. Less than 25% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010

Anyone concerned about the health of our democracy should be concerned about the low level of participation in the most basic democratic act, that of casting a vote. The problem is worse than is generally understood, as the turnout figures, relied on by politicians and the media, significantly under-represent the real level of non-voting.

The turnout figures only show the percentage of people on the electoral register who have voted and completely ignore all the people who were entitled to vote but, for one reason or another, were not registered. It is impossible to be precise about the number of people this applies to but the most recent estimates are set out in a document produced by the Electoral Commission called Great Britain’s electoral registers 2011. 

The Electoral Commission’s report show that the issue of non-registration is extremely significant

  • ·         In December 2010 there were at least 6 million people in Great Britain unregistered

  • ·         In April 2011 there were approximately 8.5 million people in Great Britain unregistered

  • ·         Some people will be on the register but at the wrong address i.e. they have moved

  • ·         44% of the people not on the register in April 2011 incorrectly believed they were registered

  • ·         55% of 17-18 and 56% of 19-24 year olds were registered

  • ·         94% of those aged 65 and over were registered

The reported turnouts in the recent EU and council elections were low. They were less than 35%. The real turnouts, taking into account those missing from the register were even lower.

The litmus test for the health of our democracy is the turnout at General Elections. The reported turnout at the 2010 election was 65.1%, which was the third lowest since 1918. Taking into account 6 million who were unregistered, the real turnout in 2010, I calculate, was not 65.1% but 57.5%. 

Among certain sections of the electorate the position is much worse. According to detailed polling by Ipsos Mori the turnout among registered 18 to 24 year olds in 2010 was only 44%. Calculating on the basis of only 56% registration in this age group, produces a startlingly low figure of only 24.6% voting. That is to say, over three quarters of 18 to 24 year olds who were entitled to vote did not do so in 2010.

Politicians and the media ought to start reporting the real turnout at elections i.e. they should take into account the best estimates of eligible voters who are not registered to vote. Non-voting is a crucial issue for our democracy. The first step in addressing any issue is to know its true nature and size.

There are no grounds for optimism that the real level of non-voting will go down in 2015. In fact, there are two factors which may well push it higher than in 2010.

First, a new system of voter registration is being introduced in England and Wales in 9 days’ time, 10 June 2014. Currently, the "head of the household" is required to register all residents of the household. Under the new system, individuals will be required to register themselves, as well as provide identifying information such as their National Insurance numbers. There are understandable fears that this will lead to a considerable decline in levels of electoral registration, particularly among the young and the poor.

Secondly, many first time voters supported the Lib Dems in 2010. Lib Dem candidates visited university campuses and posed with placards giving pledges that they personally would vote against any rise in tuition fees. Most of them then quickly broke their clear and unambiguous promise. Their actions badly undermined the trust of a generation and gave powerful ammunition to the Russell Brand creed that there is no point in voting.

Democracy is a relationship between ruled and rulers and, like any relationship, it will not endure in a healthy state without care and attention. The fact that less than a quarter of the voters, who represent our future, are not engaging with the system even to the extent of voting should be a powerful warning sign that our democracy is in urgent need of reform, renewal and revitalising.

Unfortunately, the Insiders – the elite who control the political agenda, through speeches, front pages, the Today programme and the rest - are as complacent as the court of Louis XVI in 1789. 

The issues that concern 18-24 year olds are of no interest to the Insiders, so these issues never make it onto the political agenda – unless there is a riot. People & PM 1-2-1, my proposed monthly TV programme with the PM and individual voters, selected to be truly representative, meeting “as equals”, would help engage young voters and put their issues on the political agenda and let them become part of the political conversation.

After every recent election, the Insiders make ritual comments as to how lamentable the turnout has been and mutter about the supposed moral failings of the non-voters. However, they show no interest in seriously addressing the issue of non-voting.  A cynic might think that the current system, under which the rich and old are proportionately much more likely to vote than the poor and young, suits the Insiders very well.

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