A large chunk of the UK public choose not to vote in political elections. We reveal five reasons why individuals can’t or won’t vote
Over half (66.1 per cent) of the UK population turned out to vote in the 2015 general election, around 35 per cent of those who didn’t vote were eligible. This group has become known as the ‘unheard third’. A significant proportion that could, in fact, change the outcome of an election.
Although today’s election is predicted to have a larger turnout, 69 per cent of UK citizens remain unsatisfied with the political system and as a result many will still choose not to head to their local polling station.
So, why is there such widespread voter apathy in the UK?
1. Lack of interest
The first reason is simple, some people are not interested or don’t care about politics. This is down to a range of factors, from lack of information to laziness.
Since the 1992 general election – when 77.7 per cent of the population voted – voter turnout has decreased and remained low. This decrease coincides with the rise of the internet. Nowadays more and more people consume information through ‘social media echo chambers’, rather than reading daily newspaper headlines or tuning in to the 10 o’clock news. This means individuals see stories relevant to them, according to what their friends and people they follow share, as well as algorithms. This has many consequences, but the significant one here is that those that don’t want to engage with politics (even with political parties sophisticated social media targeting) don’t have to.
Encouragingly, interest in politics has been rising since 2004. A recent Hansard Society study charting the UK public’s interest in politics showed interest rose in the lead up to the EU referendum, and has remained high since. Now 53 per cent of the public have an awareness or interest in politics.
2. Not enough knowledge
Some individuals believe they don’t understand enough about either the government, the election process or individual party policies to vote.
This is down to both information (those not wanting to engage explained above) and the British education system, which does not equip students with relevant political knowledge.
The majority of schools only teach politics as an opt-in subject at GCSE and A-level. Consequently, many students leave school at 18-years-old with little or no knowledge of the British political system. In 2013 less than 7,000 boys took up an A-level in government and politics, while only 5,990 girls chose to study the subject.
Without the right political education, young people don’t feel able to be engage with politics. This has previously impacted young voter turnout. Only 39 per cent of those under 24-years-old plan to vote in this election, compared to 68 per cent of 55-64-year-olds.
3. Dissatisfaction and disillusionment
It’s clear a large proportion of the British public have had enough of the ‘political elite’, who they do not relate to or trust. The Brexit vote has been viewed by many commentators as disillusioned voters giving a middle finger to the political establishment.
A study by Survation found that the largest percentage of people who did not vote in the 2015 did so because their beliefs were not represented by the parties and candidates.
Additional reasons included trust, with all parties having a track record of breaking manifesto pledges. This election campaign alone has been full of U-turns, and even outright lies in local candidates’ leaflets.
On top of this, some are feeling voter fatigue after four years of continuous elections. 2014 saw the Scottish independence referendum, which was followed by the 2015 UK general election, and then last year the EU referendum. Some people are simply sick of voting.
4. Safe seat residents
Some individuals who are interested in politics and even support a political party, don’t vote because they feel their vote would be wasted.
These are people who live within parliamentary constituencies with safe seats. If these seats have a strong majority for a party they do not support they may see little point voting.
For instance, a Labour or Liberal Democrat supporter living in the Chipping Barnet constituency may be deterred from voting as this has been a Tory stronghold since its birth in 1974. Additionally, with 48.6 per cent voting Conservative in 2015, there’s little chance this seat would swing drastically any other way in such a short space of time.
5. Can’t and don’t
Finally, there are some groups in the UK that actually can’t vote, or openly choose not to.
Those that are not allowed to vote include Members of the House of Lords, prisoners and, of course, those under 18-years-olds.
But there are two other groups who choose not to vote; the Royal Family and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Despite there being no law banning the monarchy from voting, the Queen and her family say they “never vote or stand for election to any position, political or otherwise”’. This is because they believe it is unconstitutional and it’s vital a Head of State remains politically neutral.
Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses choose not to vote as they also believe themselves politically neutral and live their lives by principles set out in the bible rather than government.
For more on political engagement in the UK view our infographic here