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The bad news for LAB from Prof John Curtice – Corbyn has NOT solved its turnout problem

March 22nd, 2018

Relying on previous non-voters not a viable winning strategy

The conclusion from John Curtice’s new analysis:

After the collapse in turnout in the 2001 election (and, indeed, in local elections held at the same time) considerable concern was expressed about the apparent disengagement of voters from the electoral process. A particular source of worry for some was the marked decline in turnout amongst the latest generation of new voters who, it was feared, might now never adopt the habit of voting, thereby depressing turnout in the longer term. Much of the increased turnout amongst the youngest cohort of voters was in evidence in the 2015 election, and indeed the 2016 referendum. The 2017 election seems to have witnessed little more than the continuation of that pattern

A decade later, it appears that the picture is not as bleak as it sometimes was painted. Turnout has recovered considerably amongst the electorate as a whole, albeit not as yet back to above the 70% mark. Voters’ motivation to vote seems to have strengthened, while the increased polarisation of political debate (most likely about Brexit as well as the differences between the parties about domestic policy, see Curtice, 2017) seems to have created a greater incentive to vote than was in place when New Labour moved to the centre and came to dominate the political scene. Meanwhile, although still relatively less likely to vote, the latest generation of young voters have not aped their predecessors in shunning the ballot box in unprecedented numbers.

What, however, this development seems to have had relatively little to do with was the particular appeal of Labour’s campaign in the 2017 election. Much of the increased turnout amongst the youngest cohort of voters was in evidence in the 2015 election, and indeed the 2016 referendum. The 2017 election seems to have witnessed little more than the continuation of that pattern. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that Labour particularly benefitted from the increased turnout that did occur. In the event, Jeremy Corbyn struggled just as much as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to persuade those who sympathised with the party to turn out to vote.

The Labour leader would be unwise to presume that winning over the previously disengaged will prove a likely route to securing the keys to 10 Downing St. next time around.

The full paper can be found here.

Mike Smithson