Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Euroelection - Who Voted, and Why

If you’re a Eurobarometre-trolling dork like I am, you may have noticed this fantastic set of polling numbers published this morning looking at why people did and did not vote in last month’s EU elections. A couple of news outlets today are headlining these results with a conclusion about voter apathy, but I actually think that’s probably the least interesting observation you could make about these numbers. “European voters are apathetic” – not exactly mind-blowing news.

Overall turnout in the EU this year came to 43%, continuing the trend of a decrease each cycle since elections began – but interestingly – the drop this year (from 45.5% in 2004) was less than in the past. And it should be noted that although people here go on and on about how low the parliament election’s voter turnout is, it still hasn’t sunk as low as the typical US midterm election (usually less than 40%). And considering that the midterm votes elect the entire US House of Representatives and 1/3 of the senate, let’s face it, they’re a hell of a lot more important than the EU parliament elections. But since there’s no US presidential race accompanying them, the lack of personality politics keeps many American at home. That can certainly be said for the EU Parliament elections. There’s only so much interest you’re ever going to be able to drum up for rather boring representative democracy.

Far more interesting than the overall turnout, I thought, was the profile of who voted. The survey, done shortly after the election, showed that men were more likely to vote than women, highly educated people were more likely to vote than people with a low level of education, and a smaller proportion of unemployed and working class people voted than that of senior management.

Why did people vote? Interestingly, the numbers show that party identification is playing an increasingly less significant role in voting patterns as Europeans become more and more disillusioned with the political class. Only 43% of respondents said they felt close or very close to a single political party (just 22% in the UK).

The majority of people who voted said they did so out of a feeling of duty of obligation rather than because they an ambition for change. 47% said they voted because it is their “duty as a citizen”, while 40% said they did it because they always vote. Only 19% said they thought they could make things change, and just 13% said they voted because they feel like a European or an EU citizen. Though at the same time, only 11% said they voted in order to express their disagreement with the EU.

I also found the section on which issues were important to ther voters interesting.Economic growth and unemployment were the two most important issues to people, while the role of the EU in the international scene ranked fairly low. The more educated a person was, the more importance they placed on the EU's role in the international scene as an issue.

Predictably, the UK had one of the lowest turnouts in June - but not the lowest. That honour went to Slovakia, for the second election in a row (do Slovakians not know how to operate a voting box?). Many of the new entrants of Eastern Europe had the lowest turnout actually, with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary all coming around the UK's 34% turnout. Also predictably, Luxembourg and Belgium had the highest turnout with around 90% (um, that's just weird...). Malta, Italy and Denmark all also had high turnouts.


Thanks Enoka for pointing out that Belgium and Luxembourg have mandatory voting, that explains the high turnout. Actually that makes the fact that Belgium ranked fairly low for voter interest in the election pretty interesting. It was second to last for people reporting they had had exposure to the election campaign. Not exactly the most glowing argument for compulsory voting.


Anonymous said...

I am pro-EU and even I think I wouldn't have said I voted because I thought my vote could change things if the survey asked me. I voted because it's my duty as a citizen, but I don't really know what good my vote will do

Endaka said...

The high turnouts in Belgium and Luxembourg are due to compulsory voting. However, 90% is not unachievable even without it; in the Netherlands, compulsory vote was abolished in the 1970s and yet turnout (in parliamentary elections) has often been around 80% since then.
In fact, contrarily to what you suggest, even in "boring" representative democracies in Europe, turnout in elections has historically been rather high (Italy, Germany, France, Sweden...). That, I guess, is one of the reasons why many people are worried at the 43% mark in European elections.