Are you squandering the votes of 1 in 10 of your supporters?

The Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (Volume 19, Number 1) back in 2009 had some still very relevant research into how many votes people cast in English local elections where there is more than one vacancy to be filled at once, for example in a three member ward with all the seats up for election at once:

7-15% of total potential votes are unused …

Unused votes occur when electors have a restricted choice of candidates, principally when parties fail to field as many candidates as there an available seats … [and] unused votes stem from a misunderstanding of the electoral procedure … even when parties present a full slate of candidates, some voters (about one in fifteen in London and the districts; about one in nine or ten in the metropolitan boroughs) do not use their full quota …

Low levels of educational attainment among the population at large is also relevant to the explanation.

[Unused Votes in English Local Government Elections: Effects and Explanations by Colin Rallings, Michael Thrasher and Galina Borisyuk]

In other words, a significant minority of people go in to a polling station intending to support party X, but due to a failure to understand how many votes they can cast, they don’t give party X as many votes as they could.

Part of this is down to those running the election, and choices made over issue such as the design of ballot papers and the information provided in polling stations.

However, part of this is in our hands – and how much effort we remember to make to explain multiple voting. An important lesson for get out the vote (GOTV) activity.

3 responses to “Are you squandering the votes of 1 in 10 of your supporters?”

  1. In some cases, though, voters may not wish to support one or more of your candidates at all, for reasons specific to the candidate, but may also not wish to support another party.

  2. I got elected, along with my Lib Dem fellow candidate, in my first multi-seat election despite being well behind on the “party slate” votes (where voters voted for both candidates from the same party). We won on the split votes and those who only voted for one Lib Dem candidate.

  3. The abstract of the paper ends bys asking “This analysis raises issues concerning voter awareness of block voting procedures and whether ballot paper order should be randomized in such cases in order to eradicate alphabetic bias”.

    My ward was changed to a 3-memeber ward for the next election (in 1995). Tories Argyll, Bedwell and Lib Dem Clay got elected. Tory Currie and Lib Dems Macro and Reeves didn’t (I can’t remember the names of the Labour candidates).

    The alpahebetical bias got helped along, though, by a Tory leaflet telling people to vote “A, B, C”!

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