Apathy in the UK

Tomorrow the UK public will have the opportunity to vote in the country’s General Election.

Exciting isn’t it? The opportunity to decide how the country will be governed and what policies may become enshrined in law. But of course we all know that one of the biggest barriers to democracy in any country is people not bothering to vote.

Turn-out rates for big UK elections are pretty woeful. In 1950 almost 84 per cent of the UK population voted. Fast-forward to 2010 and the figure was just 65 per cent. Last summer the Electoral Commission said 7.5 million eligible voters were not registered, with poor, black and young people least likely to be on the electoral roll. Hardly a great advert for parliamentary democracy, is it?


Worryingly, the levels of apathy in this election seem almost toxic. There’s a general sense that the UK electorate just wants to get polling day over with and get back to ‘normal’. There’s little engagement, no discernible excitement and so little buzz among the electorate that one could be forgiven for thinking the election is years away. Why is this? Where did it all gone wrong?

Successive opinion polls this year show that the likelihood of one party securing an overall majority from tomorrow’s vote is extremely unlikely. This means that every single vote has the potential to carry more weight than when one party looks set to gain the lions’ share of the vote. Yet this doesn’t seem to be doing anything to address the current malaise, in fact arguably it’s creating more shoulder-shrugging indifference.

This might be caused by the electorate feeling that politicians are not telling the whole truth. They continually tell baffled members of the public that they are campaigning for significant majorities while at the same time every poll and piece of analysis seems to indicate that the likelihood of this happening is tiny.

From a communications perspective, would it have been a better bet for the party leaders to ‘fess up and admit this? That the political process is no longer about the ‘goodies’ doing battle with the ‘baddies’ to win votes now that the landscape has changed? It’s messier, less clear-cut, unlikely to yield a landslide result for one party, but still worthy of engagement because the results still matter.

Whatever the results of the election, the aftermath should give the political parties pause for thought on how they can better adapt to the new political realities in which they now operate, and how their focus and messaging needs to adapt.