POLITICAL MS: Electoral participation


politicalms12Voter participation – how does the UK compare to other European countries?

Last week, the OWL blogged about participation in the UK’s referendum on EU membership. In the post, we mentioned that voter turnout in the referendum was significantly higher than turnouts recently recorded in general elections. This led a keen Owl reader to ask what such turnouts were and how they compared to other countries.

To answer his question, we have selected a group of countries to compare, the criteria being that they held at least one general election in 2015 and that their citizens had the right to vote in the 2014 European parliamentary elections.

In the 2015 UK general election, the turnout was 66.1%, up by one percentage point from the 2010 election, but still lower than the numbers recorded in the 1950s – 1980s when turnout frequently surpassed 75%.

In 2015, seven other (current!) EU member states held general elections with turnouts recorded as follows: Denmark (85.9%), Spain (73.2%), Finland (70.1%), Estonia (64.2). Portugal (55.8), Greece (63.6) and Poland (50.92%). So, the answer to the question is that the UK lies somewhere in the middle on the participation leaderboard.

In the 2014 European Parliament elections, turnout in the selected countries was as follows:

UK (35.4)
Denmark (56.3)
Spain (43.8)
Finland (41%)
Estonia (36.5)
Portugal (33.7)
Greece (60%)
Poland (23.8)

So, whilst approximately two thirds of voters turned out for the UK’s general election in 2015, only just over a third voted in the European Parliamentary elections the year before. A similar pattern can be seen across the board except in Greece where participation in the EP election was almost equal to the national parliamentary election. Given Greece’s particular situation at the time, this is perhaps no surprise.

Data: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), Standard Eurobarometer

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