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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Voter Turnout

I participated in a very useful seminar in Parliament today hosted by the Presiding Officer on increasing voter turnout and registration in elections. This follows on from the oral evidence I gave on behalf of UNISON to the Local Government Committee's inquiry.

The keynote speaker was Dr Robert Johns from the University of Strathclyde. He gave an overview of the research into voter turnout worldwide. He highlighted three main factors influencing turnout.
  • Duty voters. These can be persuaded to vote by a range of Get the Vote Out (GOTV) methods and this can improve turnout by as much as 7%. Direct contact is best but telephone/text is also effective. Interestingly, peer pressure through social networking is less effective because we tend to associate with like minded people who will have voted anyway.
  • Effort of voting. Need to make voting as easy as possible. Multiple days has little effect but Sunday voting is effective. The most effective is a total postal vote and this can increase turnout by up to 15%. It will be interesting to see how our pilot health board elections work out in this regard.
  • Benefits of voting. Voters are more likely to vote if they think their vote matters. Hence higher turnout in parliamentary than local elections. He also indicated that outsourcing reduces turnout by 1.7% for every service outsourced, because it diminishes the role of councils in the eyes of voters. Here lies the key - we have to make election contests matter to voters.
Duncan McNeil MSP highlighted the fall in registration by 6.4% in Scotland, although this rises to 16% in the most disadvantaged parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In my workshop we heard from Stuart Moir a Senior Community Education Worker at West Lothian Council who described the impressive work his department had done to increase voter registration amongst young people. Plus a range of other ideas from councils and voluntary organisations.

Plenty of food for thought as to how we could improve our political education to encourage the benfits of voting and then getting members into the habit of voting with GOTV techniques.

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