instagram twitter facebook

A turn out for the books

Despite turnout at the UK election at its highest since 2001, Western democracies often bemoan the state of engagement in politics. This has been reinforced by low turnout in France at the Presidential election, and turnout in the US Presidential elections averaging 55% since the millennium.

What is to be done? I've heard many different theories about raising turnout, but what works in other countries? I've looked at the day of the week elections are held, the impact of compulsory voting, and the electoral system.

To do this analysis, I've used the electoral turnout of all the countries that Freedom House rates as 'free' in their Freedom Index, which has been running since 1971.

The greatest impact comes from having a proportional representation system in place. PR systems have an average turnout of 75.7%, wheras plurality voting, as in the US and UK has an average of 68.4%. However this may still be viewed as marginal.

What we can see from the below, is that the mixed systems get an extremely low turnout, with an average of 60%. This may indicated that increased complexity of the voting system leads to lower turnout.

See below for explanations of the voting systems

Interestingly, GDP per Capita doesn't seem to have an impact on turnout, with varied results across the board. However the lowest turnout is in the countries with the very highest GDP per capita and the very lowest.

Despite having an impact, voting on Saturdays appears to only have a marginal effect, with an increase of 4%, with Sunday as one of the lowest attended days. In addition, Sunday has the highest number of countries with compulsory voting.

Similarly compulsory voting has a marginal impact, with only a 4% increase in turnout in these countries.

Appendix: What are the voting systems? (As defined by Freedom House)

First Past The Post (Plurality/Majority)

First Past The Post is the simplest form of plurality/majority electoral system. The winning candidate is the one who gains more votes than any other candidate, even if this is not an absolute majority of valid votes. The system uses single-member districts and the voters vote for candidates rather than political parties.

Block Vote (Plurality/Majority)

Block Vote is a plurality/majority system used in multi-member districts. Electors have as many votes as there are candidates to be elected. The candidates with the highest vote totals win the seats. Usually voters vote for candidates rather than parties and in most systems may use as many, or as few, of their votes as they wish.

Party Block Vote (Plurality/Majority)

Party Block Vote (PBV) is a plurality/majority system using multi-member districts in which voters cast a single party-centred vote for a party of choice, and do not choose between candidates. The party with most votes will win every seat in the electoral district.

Alternative Vote (Plurality/Majority)

The Alternative Vote is a preferential plurality/majority system used in single-member districts. Voters use numbers to mark their preferences on the ballot paper. A candidate who receives an absolute majority (50 per cent plus 1) of valid first preference votes is declared elected. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority of first preferences, the least successful candidates are eliminated and their votes reallocated according to their second preferences until one candidate has an absolute majority. Voters vote for candidates rather than political parties.

Two-Round System (Plurality/Majority)

The Two-Round System is a plurality/majority system in which a second election is held if no candidate or party achieves a given level of votes, most commonly an absolute majority (50 per cent plus one), in the first election round. A Two-Round System may take a majority-plurality form-more than two candidates contest the second round and the one wins the highest number of votes in the second round is elected, regardless of whether they have won an absolute majority-or a majority run-off form-only the top two candidates in the first round contest the second round.

List Proportional Representation (PR)

Under a List Proportional Representation (List PR) system each party or grouping presents a list of candidates for a multi-member electoral district, the voters vote for a party, and parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the vote. In some (closed list) systems the winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position on the lists. If the lists are 'open' or 'free' the voters can influence the order of the candidates by marking individual preferences.

Single Transferable Vote (PR)

The Single Transferable Vote is a preferential system in which the voter has one vote in a multi-member district and the candidates that surpass a specified quota of first preference votes are immediately elected. In successive counts, votes are redistributed from least successful candidates, who are eliminated, and votes surplus to the quota are redistributed from successful candidates, until sufficient candidates are declared elected. Voters normally vote for candidates rather than political parties, although a party-list option is possible.

Mixed Member Proportional System (Mixed)

Mixed Member Proportional is a mixed system in which the choices expressed by the voters are used to elect representatives through two different systems-one List PR system and (usually) one plurality/majority system-where the List PR system compensates for the disproportionality in the results from the plurality/majority system.

Parallel Systems (Mixed)

A Parallel System is a mixed system in which the choices expressed by the voters are used to elect representatives through two different systems-one List PR system and (usually) one plurality/majority system-but where no account is taken of the seats allocated under the first system in calculating the results in the second system.

Single Non-Transferable Vote (Plurality/Majority)

Under the Single Non-Transferable Vote system voters cast a single vote in a multi-member district. The candidates with the highest vote totals are declared elected. Voters vote for candidates rather than political parties.

Borda Count (Plurality/Majority)

Borda Count (BC) - A candidate-centred preferential system used in either single- or multimember districts in which voters use numbers to mark their preferences on the ballot paper and each preference marked is then assigned a value using equal steps. These are summed and the candidate(s) with the highest total(s) is/are declared elected.



Sources

http://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/voter-turnout

http://www.oldsite.idea.int/esd/world.cfm

http://www.gone-ta-pott.com/election_day.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita