Previously on To The Point. Tuesday’s To The Point looked at postal voting. My argument was that, rather than focusing on the potential for fraud, we should be more worried about the differences between constituencies. In some, postal votes account for over half of all votes. In others, it’s less than one-in-ten. Which is to say: some constituencies effectively vote earlier than others. We don’t all vote alike.
From turnout to turned off. Of course, postal voting isn’t the only difference between constituencies. There are wild variances even just in turnout. The above chart shows the five seats with the highest turnout at the last election and the five with the lowest. There’s over 30 percentage points of difference between the top (East Renfrewshire, 77.3 per cent) and the bottom (Manchester Central, 44.2 per cent). That’s quite a gap.
But why? It’s often said that a closer contest brings out the voters. This certainly seems to be borne out by the bottom of the chart: all five are Labour safe seats. But the top of the chart complicates the story: only two of them were particularly marginal going into the General Election of 2010, and none of them were particularly marginal in the end. The smallest majority among those five seats is Steve Brine’s 3,048 in Winchester. That doesn’t even put it in the hundred closest seats in the country.
Too many reasons to summarise. So what else is behind these turnout numbers? It can’t be a coincidence that the constituencies at the top of the list are, on the whole, leafier and better-off than those at the bottom – indeed, analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that poorer people are less likely to vote. But a thousand other factors could also be at play, from the age of the electorate to the accessibility of polling stations to the weather on the day. Britain is a multitude. So are her elections.
The accumulation of differences. Everything above is said more in observation than complaint. It’s just the way it has to be in a system that allows people to choose whether or not they vote. And yet these differences between constituencies are still worth remembering, today of all days. “One man, one vote” makes it all sound so simple, when it is anything but. In a close election like this one, all of these tiny complexities could stack up to something quite significant.