Tuesday 15 January 2013

It’s the turnout, stupid

In all the current debate about the proposed parliamentary boundary changes (which David Cameron still intends to push in the Commons, despite his defeat yesterday in the Lords), hardly anyone mentions the real reason for the supposed pro-Labour bias in the electoral system: turnout.

As Mike Smithson helpfully points out today on PoliticalBetting.com, while there is a small difference in the size of electorate between Conservative-held and Labour-held seats, there is a much bigger difference in the average turnout:
The average level in CON seats was 68.4% while in LAB seats it was 61.1%. It is this gap which is behind much of the distortion.
In Labour’s heartlands, where the outcome is not in doubt, far fewer people bother to vote. This is not something you can change with legislation.
Unless there’s a drastic change in voting patterns, which I very much doubt, there will still be a much higher vote threshold for the Tories to win an overall majority than Labour however much you bring average seat sizes into line.
A higher turnout (or even compulsory voting) wouldn’t solve this problem either. All it would do is pile up bigger majorities for Labour in its safe seats.

If Cameron wants to redress the balance, his only hope is proportional representation – and we already know what he thinks about that.


  1. A higher turnout (or compulsory voting, or whatever) would solve the problem. It would increase the Labour share of the vote without increasing their number of seats, making their vote less efficient.

    1. In which case, why would Labour want to waste its limited resources increasing the turnout in seats it will hold anyway, when it could use those resources more profitably to try and capture Tory marginals?

      The turnout is lower in inner city seats because the population is more transient and the register less accurate. And it is lower among poorer people because they are less engaged with the political process. Changing boundaries does not address those problems.


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