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.
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.