Two (belated) lessons from the PCC elections – important for political parties and media alike

by Stephen Tall on November 27, 2012

A very interesting post-election analysis from The House’s Mark Gettleson over at PoliticsHome emphasises two important points — one predictable, the other more surprising — arising from the Police and Crime Commissioner ballots…

First the important-but-predictable point — differential turnout matters:

The two shock results, however, only one of which made national news, both appeared in the top four turnout figures. The Conservative defeat of Lord Prescott in Humberside saw a 19.1% turnout and was significantly higher, at 23.2%, in the only authority carried by the victor, the East Riding. Hull, on the other hand, saw just 15.6% of voters participate. Similarly, in Labour’s shock victory in Bedfordshire, turnout in solidly Labour Luton was 20.2% – significantly higher than in Nadine Dorries country of Central Bedfordshire at 16.1%.

Secondly, the growing numbers of postal voters and the likelihood of that increasing political parties’ imperative to keep the pensioner vote happy:

A clear majority of those who participated in these elections in many police authorities voted by post. In Surrey, for instance, a 10% turnout on polling day contrasted starkly with a 47% turnout by post. Though turnout is unlikely to fall this low in future PCC elections, as they will be held in May, candidates will doubtless put renewed energy into getting their supporters onto postal ballots. It also has consequences for the voting demographic. According to Electoral Commission figures from 2005, senior citizens represented 21% of voters on the day, but 44% of those who cast a postal vote. In elections where postal voters are up to five times more likely to cast a ballot, this asks further questions about an intergenerational democratic deficit: in low turnout votes, it is even more severe.

It’s not only political parties that need to take postal voting into account — the media, too, tend to build up to polling day as Decision-Day, often holding centrepiece debates long after voters have in fact already committed themselves. We’re all going to have to get used to the fact that ‘polling day’ is a thing of the past.