Looking at turnout

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a sunny Sunday afternoon looking at the turnout numbers of the 2011 general election. The total turnout was only 74.21% (down from 79.46% in 2008). In raw numbers, that’s 2,257,336 votes cast, as opposed to 2,356,536 – despite the growing population.

2011 turnout. Click to enlarge

Wellington Central has this time taken out the title of highest turnout, beating the 2008 champion, Otaki (I am expecting a call from Mrs Keall). At a guess I would assume this has a lot to do with both Labour and the Greens running strong get out the vote (GOTV) strategies – perhaps the only place in the country where two parties manage this.

At the other end of the spectrum, we again have all seven of the Maori seats, followed by the three South Auckland Labour strongholds (Manukau East, Manurewa and Mangare). The continuation of this trend is particularly disappointing. Some may find it surprising given that this year there were four parties running strong campaigns in the Maori seats (Labour, Maori, Mana and Greens) – the simple fact of the matter is that Maori are far more disassociated from the political process than perhaps any other group in society.

I’ve also analysed the swing in turnout…

Turnout swing. Click to enlarge.

The dramatic dip in the vote in Botany stands out. Perhaps this is due to them having a by-election so soon, and local body elections (and a council by-election) last year. Are the good people of Botany simply suffering from election fatigue?

Before I pulled these numbers I had a theory that there would be a dramatic drop in turnout in the Christchurch electorates due to the earthquake. We certainly saw that to some extent (particularly Christchurch East, Christchurch Central and Wigram), but not as much as I expected. The other factor to take into account is that a lot of people have simply fallen off the electoral roll as they’ve moved away from Christchurch (the total number of people enrolled in these electorates has dropped significantly). There is more work to be done to see if they have since gone and enrolled elsewhere (and thus will have some pretty big impacts on the next boundary change), or if there are many earthquake refugees who are not even enrolled.

The big question is why did so few people vote?

All sorts of theories are being rolled out: flow on impact from the Rugby World Cup, lack of online voting, simple voter apathy. One thing that I think really did have an impact was having the National Party above 50% in the polls for so long – I’d hazard a guess that a lot of people didn’t cast their vote because it looked so certain that it would be a cakewalk to victory.

The Maori and Green parties are calling for an inquiry into the low turnout (a good idea, but it really does remind me of Saramago’s novel Seeing).

Radio New Zealand had a particularly interesting interview with Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He looks at our low turnout and points out that it’s in line with global trends. Take a listen here.

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about our low-level of turnout, and what can be done to slow or stop the trend.

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