The 2019 electoral registration surge was only half the size it looked at the time

In the run-up to the 2019 general election, there was a lot of media and political excitement about an apparent surge in electoral registration and why that might be good news for Labour.

My scepticism at the time, based on a little maths, was rather an outlier from what others were saying, based in particular on the likelihood that a high proportion of the registration applications would turn out to be duplicates. That is, people already on the register (or not qualified to be on the register) were putting in applications that would therefore not result in actual additions to the electoral register.

The Electoral Commission’s report into the 2019 general election, out this week, now gives us some data on that:

A large number of duplicate applications added unnecessary pressure for EROs and their teams. Data from EROs shows that many applications were submitted by people who were already correctly registered:

  • Approximately one in three applications they received before the deadline was a duplicate
  • In some areas the proportion of duplicate applications was even higher
  • Only around half of all applications led to an addition to the register

That scepticism was justified then.

Overall, this story is a good example of how the truth often travels much more slowly than the news, in this case coming out many months after all those news stories. That’s a theme I expand on in my book, Bad News: what the headline’s don’t tell us.


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