Meaning of Decline in Voter Turnout in Britain

In Britain, the interest in democracy is gauged using political participation. Indeed political participation in Britain is determined the level of citizenry participation every election cycle. Even though there are many ways in which democracy is expressed, political participation remains one key yardstick in the process. Elections, being one way of demonstrating democracy and its ideals, turnout has remained a key factor in determining the state of the democratic space in Britain. In recent years, the percentage of the general voting of the British public has been declining and has reached new lows since the inception of universal voting. Due to this, it can be assumed that the Britain public is becoming less and less interested in democracy. As part of finding out the implication of lower voter turnout to democracy, the concept of participation has been discussed. Legitimacy of governance structures is also discussed to help find out the meaning of lower voter turnout to a democracy. Nonetheless, counter-arguments are also fronted with the main argument being rise in alternative ways of expressing voice in a democracy and creation of a new platform for advancing the voices. The arguments are supported by statistics of voting over the years and electoral participation in different elections. Weighing on the arguments, it is concluded that decline in voter turnout imply British public becoming less and less interested in democracy.


Britain is perhaps facing a crisis of democracy. The level of voter turnout has declined over the previous election. However, it is not yet clear whether the populace is becoming less and less interested in democracy. One common issue is that politics and politicians are getting less trusted by many. Interestingly, the sceptical view of politics in Britain is nowhere evident than among the young generation who seem to be politically disengaged (Green and Gerber, 2015). This implies that very few people participate in politics and most individuals never respect the democratic processes, the authority in place or even see the leaders as legitimately elected.

Even though there has been introduction of several programs that touch on constitutional reforms and attempting to connect politics and people, voter apathy remains a challenge (Burden, 2000). There has been application of proportional representation in Europe and in fact elections have been devolved to show the people that their vote mattered. Many people are getting exposed as far as information legislation is concerned to ensure that the government remains open and accountable (Heath, 2016). Moreover, to boost the democratic space, creation of Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly is one means through which decision making is brought closer to the people. Even after all these reforms, there is still decline in voter turnout. Does this imply that the British public are becoming less and less interested in democracy? This paper seeks to establish the meaning of lower voter turnout as far as interest of the British public is in democracy.


Indeed the argument that the British is experiencing decline in voter involvement has empirical evidence. Even though there exists many kinds of political participation, general election remains one of the most readily identified with the issue. Since the 1960s, there has been progressively lower voter turnout even though different trends have been seen in 1974 and 1992 elections (Pattie and Johnston, 1998). Most notably, the 2001 election affirmed the position that there is less interest in democracy owing to the lowest voter turnout recorded since the inception of universal voting. Even though there has been slight increase in voter turnout since 2001, the level of participation as it were in 1997 and before has never been reached. In 2001, the voter turnout was at 59.2% a drop from 71.4% in 1997 (King, 2002). The figures have always remained lower than 71.4% in the subsequent years. Notably, the winning party’s total vote drop has been by approximately 2.8 million votes (Vowles, Katz, and Stevens, 2017).

For the players, such as the Labour Party, the decline in voter turnout is not necessarily less interest in the democracy but it is indicative that the public is getting so contented with the elected leaders. It seems that there is less yearning for change and election to the electorate was just a waste of time (Sund et al., 2016). Even though Labour Party gave their position, it seems that it was just a show of optimism of the scenario at that time. Nonetheless, it can be alluded that there has been increased disenchantment of the public hence their lack of interest in taking part in political processes.

Most of the representatives do not engage the public in their daily work hence making them lack trust with the work of elected of elected leaders. Lack of trust and faith in the projects only leads to increase in voter apathy. However, there has also been the perception that the public vote least matters and that there is predetermined position hence making many not to turn up at the polling station. Whether there are advantages of voting at any given time, it is undeniably true that such advantages are overshadowed by the major problem at the time (Ezrow and Xezonakis, 2016).

Lack of interest in democracy among the British public can be gauged in so many ways apart from the normal elections carried out after every five years. Notably, low participation among voters has been evident in other voting positions and elections like local, mayoral and even the EU elections (Kam, 2017).

The crisis in election participation in Britain has been evidenced even in the European elections. In the 2014 EU elections, there was dismal voter turnout in Britain. As Belgium could reach a 90% turnout, British only managed 35.6% voter turnout (Kolovos and Harris, 2005). Even though voting in EU for Belgium is compulsory, why is it that they never reach a 100% voter turnout? The low participation in one of the democratic issue shows that there is indeed a problem with political participation in Britain. On the other hand, it can be asserted that the media coverage of the elections is low for the other elections hence very few people are informed about the elections.

Less interest in democracy is also shown by the decline in the number of individuals who are party members over the last few years (Bartle, Birch and Skirmuntt, 2017). Even though there has been a slight rise in the membership of Labour Party, it is generally observed that the party memberships have dropped. Given that the main parties, Conservative and Labour are becoming more mainstream and there is less attention being paid to the individuals who are not within the core. Hence by one joining a political party, they do not get a chance to express their political view hence most people see no need to join the parties.


Legitimacy refers to the public trust and confidence in as far as the governance of a country is concerned. As Dassonneville and Hooghe (2017) notes, the public trust and confidence on how the British public is governed has reduced in the recent years. In most democracies, the public have less trust in the politicians and government. When people have less trust in the politicians and government then it is evident that their interest in how they are governed has reduced. Lack of interest or reduction in interest in governance means that the public do not care even about their leaders and how they get elected. For most people, the government can no longer be trusted to put the interest of the people before party interest and individual interest. The inability of the government to serve its people selflessly is a pointer to the probable reason why there has been decline in voter turnout (Koch and Nicholson, 2016). The decline has been a trend for the past recent elections and may be a show of less interest in democratic space and ideals.

Counter Argument

As much as there is narrative that there is reduction in interest in democracy, the reverse can also be true. In fact, seems that there is no crisis but the nature of democracy is evolving and changing with the modern times. Seemingly, the conventional ways of doing things in a democracy is being replaced with the new and more flexible means of political activism. For most of the liberal democracies, the high election turnouts are desirable as they are indicative of democracy, but falling level of political participation can be traced from the manner in which politics has changed rather than the change in behaviour of the electorate (Fisher et al., 2016). Today, there are many other forms of political participation that are being encouraged and most of them border on activism through interest groups.

Through interest groups, the young population which comprises of bulk of voters are attempting to make a difference through cyber activism. As social media become ever more prominent in lives of people, it is not easy to ignore its effect and impact over the general public. Accessing internet is becoming easy for most people and the convenience ensures that the political opinion are easily shared and expressed. Therefore internet has been serving as a new platform for expressing change making the younger generation to move away from the old forms of political party participations (Alt and Crouch, 1977).


Representative democracy at the core has been all about people voting, engaging in political parties, getting in touch with the elected representatives, having faith and trust in the representatives as well as the representatives showing that they can make decisions that can be approved of. Interestingly, all those pointers have been on the decline and the issue is about how low the turnout need to be before one questions if it is representative democracy or not.

The democratic establishments in Britain were sufficiently solid to keep their operations even with low open info, however the longer the general population abstained from voting and remained disenfranchised, the more it became a terrible issue. Right now, it is undoubted that the Britain is confronting a type of issue in spite of endeavours to apply different methods for political participation. As much as counter-contentions have been propelled, one can just affirm that the declining voter turnout is characteristic of British public becoming less and less interested in democracy.


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