The first provisional figures for turnout at the AV referendum have been released and show low turnouts across the country. Turnout was lowest in London, which did not hold local elections today, and where only 35.4 per cent of the electorate voted. In Scotland, which held concurrent national elections, turnout was better, at 50.7 per cent. Elsewhere in the country, turnout averaged out at approximately 40 per cent. In total, fewer than 19 million cast their votes yesterday.
So why was the turnout so low?
It wasn’t just to do with the a lack of fervour over AV – even its supporters backed it grudgingly, arguing that voters “should not make the perfect the enemy of the good”. Low turnouts have been a hallmark of UK elections since 1997.
In 2001, less than 60 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote. Not even John Prescott punching a man in the face* could awaken the the British public from its apathy. In 2005, it was little better, with 61.3 per cent of voters making it to the polling station. Even in 2010, during an extremely close election campaign, turnout failed to break the two-thirds barrier.
Ironically, one of the reasons often used to explain why so few people vote is the idea that an individual changes little, and often doesn’t count at all. Under first-past-the-post, this is true. Many votes make little difference. Yet when faced with a chance to reinvigorate and re-enfranchise British voters, the British electorate couldn’t be bothered to take it.
Here is the full breakdown of turnouts across the UK (four regions are yet to declare):
London 1.86 million, 35.4 per cent
South-West 1.8 million, 44.6 per cent
Eastern 1.84 million, 43.1 per cent
West Midlands 1.63 million, 39.8 per cent
Yorkshire and the Humber 1.53 million, 39.9 per cent
North-West 2.05 million, 39.1 per cent
North-East 0.76 million, 38.7 per cent
Scotland 1.98 million, 50.7 per cent
(*For those who have never seen the moment when the deputy prime minister – I often forget that, for over a decade, Prescott was sometimes left in charge of the country – punched a man in the face, the video appears below.)