Non-voters; the elephant in the room at every political science convention. In the 2017 general election, the under 40 bracket had a turnout of 60.25% compared to the average of 69%. This underrepresentation of under 40s has consequences for the Labour party after all 61% of these people voted Labour. That means that whilst older voters are significantly more likely to turnout and vote, younger voters stay at home, which has ultimately affected policies. Younger people have been far worse off due to austerity and older people have been largely unaffected due to austerity and have actually become better off. Labour supporters regularly argue that Labour should target non-voters to win the next election. The question is could non-voters actually tip the balance of power in favour of Labour?
One of the most important things to consider is if non-voters would actually support Labour policy. Researching into the political opinions of non-voters is quite difficult after all, one of the reasons why people don’t vote is that they aren’t interested in politics at all! One interesting piece of research by Georg Lutz, Kathrin Kissau, Jan Rosset called The political preferences of political elites, voters and non-voters in Europe suggests that there are actually differences in political opinions across Europe between voters and non-voters. The research paper suggests that non-voters support redistributive policies more than voters and also support tougher immigration policies than voters. At best, this is a mixed picture for Labour. Its advantageous for Labour to see non-voters picking Labour economic policies but highly disadvantageous to Labour to see them support tougher immigration policies.
A far more concerning research regarding non-voters comes from a Survation study from 2013 which included looking at policy views of non-voters. The research has outcomes which offer grim reading for Labour; many non-voters hold consistently right-leaning views on government policy that is to say the government should prioritise right-leaning policy then left-leaning policy. Examples of this include non-voters significantly more like to prioritise cutting welfare spending, cutting taxes and reducing crime. It is true that more left-leaning policies were supported by non-voters such as increasing the number of jobs and improving schools. Non-voters particularly value increasing the number of jobs. However, what is interesting is that in Britain at least, the old left-wing troupe of non-voters being radicals under the bedsheets is completely unfounded.
So why don’t people vote? There are many reasons for this. Many people generally lack interest in politics, in fact, 18.9% of people are not interested in politics according to the 2013 Survation poll. This is, however, the minority of those who don’t vote. The largest group in the poll were those who said “my vote wouldn’t make difference”, followed by “parties and candidates are all the same”. Considering this is half of all of the non-voters, this should be the focus of policies to reduce non-voting. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be dealt with by Labour. To make votes to be meaningful, it would require electoral reform, which the Labour party doesn’t seem in a hurry to support. If non-voters still believe that “parties and candidates are all the same”, then nothing will ever convince them to vote because all things considered, Labour and the Conservatives are completely different today. Therefore, it is unlikely for Labour to make substantial gains from non-voters.