To Vote or Not to Vote: The Problem of Turnout
This chapter considers trends over time in electoral participation in the UK, and asks what factors influence the decision whether or not to vote. Electoral participation is driven by a variety of factors recognizable as features of both rational choice and civic voluntarism. Citizens are more likely to participate when the stakes are high than when they are low. And the resource-rich are more likely to participate than are the resource-poor. There is evidence of rapidly declining participation rates in recent British elections — more rapid than contextual explanations alone would suggest. The certainty of a Labour victory in both 1997 and 2001 and also (albeit a less emphatic one) in 2005, and the perceived ideological closeness of Labour and the Conservatives, both helped to create low turnouts in those election years. However, turnouts at the 2001 and 2005 general elections were even lower than this account would lead us to expect. There are signs that all is not well with British electoral democracy.
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