elections 2012

Scotland needs to get a grip on election turnout

26th July 2012
26 Jul 2012
local government
elections 2012


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Scotland needs to get a grip on election turnout

Following the inability of Scottish authorities to publish basic data on turnout in May’s Local elections the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has published its own figures.

Based on the data available (see note 1), the turnout across Scotland’s 32 local authorities is 39.7%.

The data gathering has also highlighted huge inconsistencies in how individual councils handle data on public engagement .

The Society has now called for the Scottish Government to take responsibility for publishing an accurate turnout figure, including calculating methodology in a timely manner.

Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, said:

Election turnout figures are fundamental for monitoring the health of any democracy. In Scotland we haven’t even agreed how to measure it.

The Scottish Government and the Electoral Management Board must work to improve the consistency of reporting across councils and publish an agreed methodology. Only then will we know for sure who’s turning out and who’s turning off from our democracy.

ERS Scotland has just launched Democracy-Max, a yearlong enquiry into the health of Scottish democracy. Following a packed public meeting on Saturday 14th July, Sullivan added:

Turn out is falling, but there is a real appetite among the Scottish public for engagement in the political process. People have to have some confidence that expressing there view will have some sort of effect on the way they are governed . Our investigation into what makes a ‘Good Scottish Democracy ‘ is an ambitious 12 month programme attempting to imagine a political system that will deepen that confidence.”


Notes to editors

Note 1: Methodology:

To calculate the turnout figure, we sourced each council area's declarations and input the data for reported turnout, total valid votes and percentage turnout per ward.

Since several councils did not publish details of their total electorate figures, we worked backwards to calculate the electorate of each ward by dividing the reported ward turnout figure by the ward percentage turnout and multiplying by 100. Totalling the ward electorate figures, we reached an estimated national electorate figure of 3,990,398.

The local government electorate figure (as at 1 December 2011, published in February 2012) was 4,010,000, some 19,000 more than the estimated figure we calculated. This is within the margin of error for statistical analysis, and given 4 months passed between the publication of this figure and the election itself, can be accounted for by natural changes in the population (there were, for example, 14,218 deaths registered by the General Register Office Scotland between 1 January and 31 March 2012).

We then divided the total of the ward reported turnouts (1,584,130) by the estimated national electorate figure (3.990,398) and multiplied by 100 to reach a national turnout figure of 39.7%

While the actual electorate figures are still to be finalised, based on the available information (and the electorate numbers which the councils themselves are declaring their figures against) we believe this to be the most accurate way of calculating the electorate figure with the information currently available.

A spreadsheet providing the ward-level data and the calculations involved is available on request.

Note 2: The people gathering

The people gathering was the commencement of the Electoral Reform Society’s investigation into what would make the ‘Good Scottish Democracy’ or ‘Democracy Max’

Note 3: Last local election

The last time Scotland held a Local Government election decoupled from a parliamentary election was in 1995, when the turnout was 44.9%. Thus the 2012 election indicates a clear fall from that election, though the 39.7% turnout in Scotland is significantly higher than the corresponding figure in England for 2012 of 31%.

The Electoral Reform Society Scotland is collating data for each of Scotland’s 353 council wards in an extensive analysis of the election results, with the turnout data just a small element of this project. As a small office, this is an incredibly lengthy process, but the collating of turnout would be very straightforward for the relevant government department should a centrally agreed methodology be found .