Voter engagement in the UK: follow up - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

1  Introduction

The problem

1. Democracy in the UK is working less well than it used to and we need to move swiftly to pre-empt a crisis. Millions of people are missing from the UK's electoral registers; at the most recent estimate, 7.5 million people are not correctly registered to vote. Many of those who are registered to vote—and in many elections the majority—choose not to participate at elections, be they for the UK Parliament, local government, or the European Parliament. At the last general election almost 16 million registered voters, 34.9% of the electorate, chose not to participate, more than voted for candidates of any one major party. Include the number of people who are not correctly registered to vote in this figure, and the number of people who did not participate was greater than the number of votes cast for candidates of the two largest parties, or of both of the Coalition parties. That was the election which recorded the highest proportion of registered voters—65.1%—turning out at any UK election to take place in the 21st century—although turnout for the recent Scottish independence referendum was 84.6%.

2. This is not a new problem, but it is one that has gone unaddressed for too long. In a modern democracy, it is unacceptable that millions of people who are eligible to vote are missing from electoral registers. It is desirable in a representative democracy for turnout at elections of all kinds to be higher—and ideally far higher—than has been the case in recent years. It is essential that the scale of the response is equal to the task. Aside from these purely arithmetic measures of voter engagement, there is clearly also a serious problem around disengagement from, and dissatisfaction with, politics more broadly.

Our consultation on voter engagement

3. On 14 November 2014 we published an interim report on voter engagement in the UK.[1] This explored the reasons for current low levels of voter engagement and considered how the problem could be addressed. Our interim report reached 47 conclusions and made 35 recommendations, covering a broad range of areas relevant to the question of voter engagement in the UK. These included the structure of political parties, public dissatisfaction with politics and politicians, where power lies across the UK, arrangements for electoral registration and the options available for voters to participate at elections. The range and breadth of conclusions and recommendations indicate the level of action we believe is necessary. The Government welcomed our interim report and agreed with us that improving voter engagement is vital to the long term well-being of democracy in the UK.[2] The responses we received from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens also welcomed our interim report and the work we had done on this subject.[3]

4. Our interim report dealt with some controversial issues and considered several radical changes, such as making voting compulsory and enabling people to vote online. We also called on the Government and individual political parties to take action to re-engage the electorate. So as to give the public the opportunity to have a say on the proposals we have considered, we put our interim report out for public consultation. To facilitate this process, we have engaged with the public in a variety of ways, including:

·  Calling for written responses to our interim report;[4]

·  Promoting a survey with questions on several of the proposals we are considering;[5]

·  Holding an informal meeting with youth groups;[6]

·  Inviting the views of party leaders,[7] and

·  Hosting an informal chat on Twitter.[8]

5. Several of those who submitted evidence to us did so on the basis of their own surveys, and these results have been considered in addition to those we received directly.[9] In total, we received over 100 pieces of written evidence, over 15,000 responses to our survey and other related surveys, dozens of comments on social media and well over 100 pieces of correspondence.[10] Our report has also been informed by research conducted by the Hansard Society which, as part of its annual Audit of Political Engagement, has asked members of the public which changes to electoral arrangements they would support with a view to increasing participation at elections.[11]

6. Many thousands of people have given us their views on voter engagement. These responses are particularly important to our deliberations on this subject, because the views of the public must be central to any discussion around electoral arrangements. It was for this reason we produced an interim report in November 2014, with a view to consulting the public before bringing forward our final report. We are extremely grateful for all of the responses we received, whether by e-mail, letter, social media, formal written submission or survey response. These have been invaluable to informing our deliberations and helping us refine the conclusions and recommendations presented here.

7. As part of our consultation we wrote to the leader of each party represented at the House of Commons asking for their views on our interim report. We received responses from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. These responses are extremely welcome, and we hope demonstrate a commitment on the part of those parties to take improving voter engagement seriously.

This report

8. The intention of this report is to set out the responses we received during our consultation, and our revised conclusions and recommendations where these have changed since we produced our interim report. The areas where our conclusions and recommendations have changed are mainly those where the response to our consultation has indicated there is strong support for, or opposition to, one of the proposals we considered. Where a conclusion or recommendation from our interim report stands, we have stated this.

1   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2014-15, Voter engagement in the UK, HC 232 Back

2   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2014-15, Voter engagement in the UK: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2014-15, HC 1037, page 1 Back

3   Written evidence from Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party [PVE 116], Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Opposition [PVE 123], the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Constitutional and Political Reform [PVE 106] and the Green Party for England and Wales [PVE 96] Back

4   A full list of written submissions published by the Committee is available on page 73. Back

5   The headline results of the survey are available on page 70 as Annex 4, and the full data set of the Committee's survey results has been published on our website here: PCRC survey results Back

6   A note of the informal meeting with youth groups is available on page 65 as Annex 1. Back

7   The Committee received responses from Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party [PVE 116], Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Opposition [PVE 123], the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Constitutional and Political Reform [PVE 106] and the Green Party for England and Wales [PVE 96]. Back

8   A note of points raised on social media is available on page 69 as Annex 3. Back

9   Organisations to host surveys were Unlock Democracy [PVE 111], Bite the Ballot [PVE 115], 38 Degrees [PVE 126] Back

10   A note of many of the points raised in correspondence to the Committee is available on page 66 as Annex 2. Back

11   The results for the question asked by the Hansard Society are available on page 71 as Annex 5. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 5 February 2015