A study by IPPR thinktank highlights the expanding voter turnout divide among different socioeconomic groups since the 1960s
A recent study has revealed that the forthcoming UK election is poised to exhibit the most significant disparity in voter participation in the past sixty years. This inequality is attributed to an increasing divide in turnout across various demographics, including age, income, class, home ownership, and ethnicity.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a thinktank with centre-left leanings, noted that while the 1960s saw minimal differences in voting rates among social strata, this gap had expanded significantly by 2010. The study observed an 18-percentage point difference in turnout between the highest earners, who are more inclined to vote, and the lowest.
Harriet Baldwin, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Treasury committee. UK Tax Helpline Wait Times Now Exceed Pandemic Levels Learn more The divide is even more pronounced between homeowners, more likely to vote, and renters, with a 23-point difference. Additionally, a 15-point gap exists between university graduates and non-graduates. A striking 28-point disparity is noted between voters aged 61 and over and those between 18-24 years old.
According to the IPPR’s findings, nine out of every ten individuals in the top third of income brackets participated in the last two general elections, compared with only seven out of ten from the lower third.
The study also highlights that the lowest third of earners are roughly three times more likely to consider voting as futile compared to the highest earners. Similarly, renters are twice as likely as homeowners to share this sentiment.
An analysis of interactions with politicians showed that one in three university graduates has directly contacted a politician, as opposed to one in seven among those without a degree.
The research did not explore whether the Conservative or Labour parties benefit more from this turnout gap, though it is known that older voters tend to favour the Conservatives over Labour.
Dr. Parth Patel, a senior research fellow at IPPR, commented on the implications of this trend, stating, “There are noticeable disparities in whose voice is heard in our democracy. Policies tend to align more with the preferences of the affluent rather than the less well-off, and people are aware of this – yet it often escapes political attention.”
“Regardless of who governs, our democratic system requires fundamental changes. For individuals to genuinely influence their destiny and feel secure, they must perceive their impact in the collective democratic process,” added Patel.
He also pointed out that the disproportionate influence of the affluent is a key factor in the growing inequality within UK democracy, as lower-income groups are more supportive of wealth redistribution.
The IPPR has identified additional concerns such as the predominance of wealthy individuals with higher education in party memberships, political donations, and as career politicians.
The institute also observed a significant decline in MPs from working-class backgrounds, which is decreasing at a rate twice that of the general public’s employment in similar roles.
Currently, only 7% of MPs can be classified as working class, in contrast to 34% of the working-age population, as per IPPR’s estimates.
The study warns of a potential “doom loop,” where policies become increasingly detached from citizens’ needs, potentially fuelling populism and eroding trust in democracy.
To address this, the IPPR recommends a new phase of constitutional reforms to decentralize power and influence in the UK, essential for enhancing living standards and life expectancy across all demographics.
Internationally, strategies like compulsory voting, automatic voter registration, weekend voting, and mobile polling stations have successfully increased election participation.
However, constitutional reform has been a lower priority in the UK, often hindered by the legislative process in the Commons and Lords. The 2011 coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats held a referendum on changing the voting system, which yielded no alterations. Plans to reform the House of Lords were also abandoned.
Labour, under Keir Starmer, has expressed intentions to replace the House of Lords, but immediate action is not anticipated. Instead, smaller steps towards reducing its size and altering its composition are more likely. Labour does not advocate for a change in the voting system, but it does support the objectives of the Gordon Brown Commission for decentralizing power, wealth, and opportunities, as well as enhancing standards and ethics in Westminster.
Reflecting on the Brown Commission report published a year ago, Starmer emphasized the need for political reforms, including the abolition of the Lords, to overhaul both the UK’s political and economic landscape. “The driving force of the report is the recognition that both politics and the economy are flawed, necessitating comprehensive reform,” he stated.