Why you should ignore all the news reports about the size of the new electoral register

Given how many times I’ve blogged about the move to individual electoral registration, I guess I should blog about the new electoral register figures and what they tell us.

But I’ve given up trying to because of one basic fact: lots of numbers have been published and no-one has a clue what they really mean.

What we do know is that the total number of entries on the electoral register has fallen. But what we don’t know is either context or meaning.

We don’t know context because it’s natural to expect there could be a cycle in electoral register entries through the Parliamentary election cycle (with interest in getting registered peaking before an election and declining after). So to understand what has happened before and after a general election itself, you really need numbers going back many years to be able to spot any such Parliamentary cycle. But no-one – not the ONS, not the Electoral Commission and not any media outlets who like to tout data journalism – is doing that.

So is the latest fall bigger, smaller or the same as what we should expect given previous cycles in the size of the register? Not a clue. The only wisdom to be had is knowing you don’t know.

Then there is a question about what the decline in the total number of entries on the register means even if we knew the context.

That could be due to people who are legally entitled to register and vote falling off the register and losing their right to vote. (That’d be bad news.)

It could also be a reduction in the number of duplicate entries for people who are legally entitled to be registered in two places, such as university students who can be registered at home and at university. (That’s be a so-so news as they’d still have one right to vote rather than being disenfranchised totally.)

Or it could be the removal of defunct entries, such as for people who have died. (That’d be a good news.)

So what balance between the bad, the so-so and the good is there in these figures? Again, no-one has a clue. Again, the only wisdom is to be had in knowing you don’t know.

Sorry, ignorance is all I have to offer.


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