August 21, 2017
All UK citizens over 18 (16 in Scotland) have the right to vote. But not everyone uses it. Why? Maybe they don’t know who to vote for. Maybe they disagree with the voting system altogether. Or maybe it’s the weather…
The topic of weather affecting turnout has been discussed in the run up to most general elections through the years, but does it hold any truth? Read on as we explore this wet, drizzly topic.
Voter turnout – a crisis?
Wait – why are we talking about voter turnout in the first place? Well, in short, it’s become a bit of a crisis. From World War II all the way to the 1997 election turnout was comfortably above 70%, with an impressive 83.9% in 1950. Since the turn of the millennium, however, it’s failed to get anywhere near those heights.
The 2001 low of 59.4% has slowly crept up to 68.7% in 2017, but it’s still so low that non-voters total more than votes for any other party. The result is a problem of representation. With such low voter turnout, you’re never getting a government that truly represents the people.
Weather the storm
It’s clear that the long-term fall in turnout isn’t down to weather. But could significant drops in turnout, such as that in 2001, be partly related to weather? It’s possible. The theory goes that rain puts people off going out. Polling stations are a short walk away – and who wants to exercise their democratic right if it means getting a bit wet, right? Ok, it seems a bit far-fetched, but there are some studies showing a link.
A 2007 US study looked at the weather conditions in every US county over 14 presidential elections. They found that for every inch of rain, there was a 1% reduction in turnout, with a 5% reduction for every inch of snow. A Dutch study found the same – 1% drop per inch of rain – as well as noticeable increases for warmer temperatures and sunshine.
Rain drowning the left?
Interestingly in the case of the US, the study found that more rain and a poor turnout had disastrous consequences for the Democrats – typically the more left-leaning party. It may have contributed to George Bush’s Republican win in 2000, they suggest.
A similar opinion is held in the UK, where rain is thought to be detrimental to parties like Labour and the Greens. Following the Copeland by-election, Labour MP Shami Chakrabarti blamed the weather for Labour’s defeat. Why? She cited things like car ownership, with left-wing voters typically less well-off than their opposition.
No real effect?
However, according to Oxford University’s Stephen Fisher, the weather doesn’t have an effect on UK elections. He puts the 2001 low turnout down to two factors:
- How close the election race is
- How different the options are
Voters couldn’t see much difference between Blair and Hague, but also saw the result as a foregone conclusion. A unique combination of these two factors saw turnout drop to its lowest post-war level. It seems to be back on the up now, however, with figures reaching 68.7% in 2017.
What do you think? Is the future bright for voter turnout, or will it continue to be dark and cloudy? Let us know in the comments.