Winning on 20 per cent of the vote. In ways both literal and figurative, politics tends to exclude the people who didn’t vote. When the Conservatives won the last election with a share of roughly 36 per cent, it was 36 per cent of the people who actually voted. But what happens if you also include those who didn’t vote? That’s what I’ve done in the chart above. It shows the winning vote shares since 1945 as a proportion of all registered voters – and, my, how they’ve declined. In 1951, the Conservatives won over 40 per cent of this wider electorate. In 2010, it was just 24 per cent.
Why so? It’s a combination of both less popular parties and lower turnout. If we exclude those non-voters again, the Conservative Party of 1951 won 48 per cent of the vote on a turnout of almost 83 per cent. Whereas in 2005 Labour won 35.2 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 61 per cent. Around 17 million registered voters didn’t head to the ballot boxes that year; a similar figure to the last election. Politicians are jostling for smaller slices of an ever-smaller pie.
It could be even worse. The chart doesn’t even include those people who failed to register as voters but could have. In 2010, that number was probably around 6 million. Which means that, overall, 23 million possible votes didn’t count towards the final result.
The paradox of coalition. In theory, joining with other parties can mitigate some of these effects – together, the Conservatives and Lib Dems secured 38 per cent of all registered voters’ support at the last election. In practice, however, some of those voters won’t be pleased with the crossbreed government that follows. This is one of the great paradoxes of recent elections: through their dissatisfaction with politics, voters are producing outcomes that may well be more dissatisfactory to more people. Except the blame lies elsewhere, not least with the politicians.
Humility, humility, humility. There are practical things that could be done, such as introducing online voting. But I’d rather recommend something more spiritual to our party leaders: the humility that I described in my recent post on the trials of minority government. Whoever wins the forthcoming election will do so with far less support than the Friday morning news broadcasts would have you believe. They ought to keep that in mind.