The general election in June saw the UK’s biggest ever electorate. A record number of people were registered to vote by polling day – 46.8 million in total, up 500,000 from 2015, according to the Electoral Commission.
Yes, part of this is simply that the population is increasing. But we don’t get a record-sized electorate every year, or every national vote. For example, in 2015, the number of people registered for parliamentary elections was 1.3 per cent smaller than in 2014. So there are other factors at play, too.
One is simply that online electoral registration has made the process easier. There have also been high-profile campaigns to sign people up – so successful that more than 2.9 million applied to vote between Theresa May’s announcement of the snap election on 18 April and the deadline a month later. This included 612,000 on deadline day (22 May) itself.
Plus – as I have written before – the EU referendum and numerous other votes in a short period have got people into the habit of voting, or at least registering, rather than giving the population “election fatigue”.
But what does this mean for future elections? The dip between 2014 and 2015 coincides with the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration in 2014. This was a change to voter registration rolled out by the government in England, Wales and Scotland that year – controversial for making more than 800,000 people drop off the register.
The reform, which changed household and university block registering to individual registering, had a particular impact on traditionally Labour-friendly voters. Students and young people – more likely to be registered by university and someone else in their household, respectively – were the worst hit by the changes.
Labour accused the Conservatives of playing politics with the electoral register. Whether or not this is fair, the Tories clearly feel less obliged to join in with voter registration campaigns generally – a Press Association analysis found that the party didn’t once use social media to encourage people to vote a week before the deadline this year.
Yet it increasingly seems that neither inaction nor action by the Conservatives will stop the numbers registered to vote rising. And in a way that they should fear. The Electoral Commission found that 69 per cent of online applications made after the election announcement were from people aged under 34, compared to the mere 8 per cent from those over 55. This shows that young people – overwhelmingly more likely to vote Labour – are receptive to voter registration drives, and reforming the system is no longer putting them off, or shaking them off.