The significance of turnout. I’ve written quite a lot about turnout recently. Here are my To The Point posts on youth turnout, on turnout by constituency and on how turnout affects the parties’ vote shares. There’s a reason for this. Commentators often talk about turnout and its decline, but I still don’t think we place enough significance on it. The imbalances between those who vote and those who don’t have a persistent effect on our politics.
Scotland takes the lead. Another of these imbalances is between the countries of the United Kingdom. I’ve graphed it above. Historically, Wales has yielded the highest levels of turnout in our general elections. But not in last week’s. Wales had the third highest turnout of 65.6 per cent, well ahead of Northern Ireland on 58.1 per cent, and just behind England on 65.8 per cent. It was Scotland that topped the list. 71.7 per cent of its electorate went to the ballot, the largest proportion since 1992.
But why? What explains Scotland’s newfound enthusiasm for voting? The rise of the SNP, most likely. Nationalists felt compelled to vote, and unionists felt compelled to stop them. But I’d also like to see the figures for youth turnout by country, which don’t appear to have been published yet. Some 75 per cent of 16-17 year-olds voted in last year’s Scottish referendum, alongside a more meagre 54 per cent of 18-24 year-olds. How many of them continued the practice in last week’s election?
New habits, new politics. I ask the question for two reasons. First because, as I’ve pointed out before, voting is thought to be “habit-forming”: by extending the vote to young people in last year’s referendum, the SNP may have made those turning 18 more likely to vote now. Second because the SNP might be more beholden to young people than their political counterparts are. The party won over 35.5 per cent of all registered voters in Scotland, compared to the Conservatives’ 27 per cent in England. If a decent proportion of those voters are young people, it could undermine politics’ typical bias towards the elderly.
A repeat performance? There’s now another chance for young people to pick up the habit of voting ahead of a general election: the EU referendum. Look out for parties trying to maximise youth participation in that vote, and then capitalising upon in in 2020. Apparently, 58 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted across the United Kingdom last week. That proportion could be higher next time around.