This note looks at turnout in a variety of UK elections. It provides a range of statistics on turnout at both national and local elections as well as the devolved administrations and European Parliament elections. Where possible comparisons to other countries are made.Jump to full report >>
This note looks at turnout in a variety of UK elections. It provides a range of statistics on turnout at both national and local elections as well as the devolved administrations and European Parliament elections. Where possible comparisons to other countries are made.
Turnout at the 2017 General Election was 68.8% and was the fourth successive election where turnout increased. The highest turnout recorded at a UK general election over the last 100 years was in 1950, 83.9%.
Between 1922 and 1997, turnout at UK general elections remained above 71%, rising to over 80% in the general elections of 1950 and 1951. Turnout was only 57.2% in the 1918 General Election, although this was partly due to a low service vote and a large number of uncontested seats (107 out of a total of 707 seats).
In 2001, turnout fell to 59.4%, its lowest level since 1918 and down 12% points compared with 1997. Although turnout rose again in 2005-2010, it was still below its 1997 level. In 2017 UK turnout was 66.8%, and turnout in each of the countries of the UK was below the 1918-2017 average for the UK, which was 72.9%.
There are no official figures for voting by age, but a long-running academic survey, the British Election Study, provides reasonably consistent survey-based data for general elections since 1964.
The decline and recent growth in young people’s engagement in politics has been a common theme in political discourse. As seen above, voter turnout has been typically low among young people relative to older age groups. The estimated turnout of 18-24 year olds in the 2017 General Election is the highest since 1992.
Comparisons of turnout between countries should be used with some caution as in some instances voting is compulsory, for example in Belgium and Luxembourg, which may partially explain any observed differences.
Across the 28 EU states the average turnout for Parliamentary elections was 66.5%. The UK 2017 General Election meant that the UK produced the 12th highest turnout for a Parliamentary election.
Turnout across the EU as a whole decreased at every European Parliament election between 1979 and 2014, including in countries such as Belgium and Luxembourg, where voting is compulsory. In 2019, turnout increased across the EU as a whole to 51.0%, the highest level seen since 1994. Poland and Spain saw turnout-levels of around 20% higher than 2014, and five further countries saw turnout between 10% and 15% higher in 2019 compared to 2014. Small falls in turnout, of between 1% and 3% were seen in 8 of the 28 countries.
Turnout at European Parliament elections in the UK has been relatively low since 1979. Turnout in Northern Ireland, where a system of Single Transferable Vote has operated in all European elections, has been consistently higher than the rest of the UK.
The highest reported turnout at a European Parliament election in the UK was 38.5% in 2004; this followed a record low of 24.0% in 1999.
Further detailed charts and appendix tables are available in the PDF document.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-8060
Authors: Noel Dempsey; Philip Loft