According to a poll, 42% of people aged 18-24 are not aware local elections are taking place on 5th May. Should we be worried? (BTW I can’t actually find the poll but it’s all over Twitter so it must be true.)
Perhaps but not necessarily in the way the headline grabs us.
Elections are funny things and so much guff is written about them. I am adding my contribution. Today sees a large number of local elections taking place across 146 councils, some with every seat contested while others only a third of the seats are up for grabs. There are 1,219 seats up for election across 32 local authorities in Scotland and 1,234 in Wales across 22 local authorities, while in Northern Ireland there is an election for its 90-seat Assembly.
In my neck of the woods there are no elections, yet 10 miles down the road there are. It is a very confusing picture.
In total, around 35 million people will be entitled to vote out of an electorate of 48.8 million and thai throws up our first anomaly. Assuming that age distribution is relatively constant across the country (which it isn’t) then 29% of young people will not be involved in the elections. The young people may not be aware because they don’t need to be.
In addition, turnout at local elections is always poor. According to Ipsos, last year it was 36% in the shire districts, 31% in the unitary authorities and just 26% in the metropolitan boroughs. Compare this to national elections where the turnout was 67.13% in 2019.
Whilst the figure of 42% of young people may be of concern it is dwarfed by the voter apathy of between 64% and 74%. To me this is of much greater concern.
I accept that it is everyone’s right not to vote yet widespread disengagement from the political process should worry us all. There is no guarantee that the outcome would be any different if more people voted but I can’t help feeling that a larger vote would give more legitimacy to the outcome.
If apathy were a party it would win hands down and the current parties seem happy for it to be this way.