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Who Votes Wins

19.06.24 | Written by Paul Smith

As we head for the General Election we are reminded by the West Wing quote, “decisions are made by those who turn up”, judging by recent elections about one third of people won’t turn up and their views will not be reflected in the result. Across constituencies this varies from about 50-80% of people voting.

The population is not homogeneous and the election participants are not a representative sample of the population. Much is made of the higher turnout among older people which explains why political parties are keen to court the ‘grey’ vote.

How does housing affect turnout though?

In the recent Bristol Local Elections the ward turnouts varied from 14% to 52% with the lowest turnouts in the areas traditionally described as ‘council estates’ and the highest in high value high home ownership areas. Nick Clegg famously remembered that either Osborne or Cameron (he couldn’t remember which) said “I don’t understand why you keep going on about the need for more social housing – it just creates Labour voters”.  This probably reflects the claim that in the 1930s that Herbert Morrison said that he would “build the Tories out of London” by building council housing. In fact, they need not have worried as it is likely that around 50% of social housing tenants will not vote at all. 

The turnout for private renters is usually a little higher, around 60% – but this may ignore that the more mobile of private renters are less likely to be on the electoral register and therefore not counted in turnout figures. Those most likely to vote are homeowners, at around 75-80% turnout. This may explain why housing doesn’t move massively up the housing agenda as the well housed are significantly more likely to vote than those affected by the housing crisis.

One group that is most likely to be excluded from the General Election are those without a home. People experiencing homelessness, people in temporary accommodation, sofa surfers, van dwellers etc. There is a low probability of them being registered at all. Given this number is now in the hundreds of thousands it is not an insignificant number of people excluded by the electoral process due to their housing situation. 

Not everyone in our democracy has an equal say and some have no say at all. I wonder how this is reflected in the opinion polls which are currently bombarding us.

Who Votes Wins