Levels of Voter Interest

Among the things that I covered, though only briefly, in my presentation at our pre-election seminar last week was the topic of levels of interest in the upcoming votes to be held in Wales.

In our pre-election wave of the Welsh Election Study, we asked our sample of respondents the following three questions. (The questions were asked in succession, rather than being distributed across different parts of the survey):

  • On May 5th there will be an election for the National Assembly for Wales. How interested, if at all, are you in this election?
  • On May 5th there will also be an election for a Police and Crime Commissioner in your area. How interested, if at all, are you in this election?
  • On June 23rd there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. How interested, if at all, are you in this referendum?

For each of these questions, the same response options were offered: Very, Fairly, Not Very, Not at all, and Don’t Know. We can therefore directly compare levels of interest in the three votes.

The table here shows the overall percentage of WES respondents who selected each options for each question:

 

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 23 7 58
Fairly 36 24 24
Not very 24 37 8
Not at all 14 27 7
Don’t Know 3 4 3

 

Given that internet polls probably still retain some tendency to attract more politically interested respondents than the average, I would suggest that we probably need to mentally adjust downwards the levels of interest displayed here. Of more importance than the absolute levels here, I think, are the relative levels of interest shown in the three votes.

As we can observe, and as we would probably expect, levels of reported interest are by far the highest in the EU Referendum, and lowest in the PCC elections; the National Assembly election is in the middle. Given the relative degrees of media attention the different contests have attracted, these findings are wholly unsurprising. (Although I suspect some journalists would counter, with at least some justification, that the degree of attention they focus on these different votes responds to the amount of interest that the public have in them).

I thought it would be interesting, however, to look a bit further into this data, by exploring levels of interest in the different votes among supporters of the different parties. So in the tables that follow, chart overall percentages for those indicating they would vote for each of the following parties on the Assembly constituency vote. (The patterns do not appear to differ much if we select the regional list vote).

 

Labour:

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 30 9 63
Fairly 42 29 25
Not very 23 39 8
Not at all 4 20 3
Don’t Know 1 3 2

 

Conservative:

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 26 10 76
Fairly 43 31 20
Not very 27 41 3
Not at all 4 17 1
Don’t Know 0 2 0

 

Plaid:

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 39 9 62
Fairly 42 26 28
Not very 14 37 6
Not at all 5 25 3
Don’t Know 1 3 1

 

UKIP:

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 25 11 82
Fairly 35 25 12
Not very 25 36 4
Not at all 13 26 1
Don’t Know 2 2 2

 

Lib-Dems:

Level of Interest Assembly PCC EU Referendum
Very 25 4 62
Fairly 44 23 23
Not very 17 36 3
Not at all 7 29 4
Don’t Know 7 8 8

 

As we can see, the overall pattern remains intact for supporters of all the five parties, with levels of interest highest in the EU Referendum, in the middle for the National Assembly election, and by some way the lowest for the PCC election. Nonetheless, there are some interesting distinctions between the parties:

  • It is interesting, though unsurprising, that levels of interest in the EU Referendum are highest among UKIP and Conservative supporters – who are also by far the likeliest to favour ‘Brexit’.
  • It is also interesting, though little more surprising, that Plaid Cymru supporters are the most interested in the National Assembly election (or that UKIP supporters are the least interested).
  • There is yet more bad news for the Liberal Democrats. Not only does this poll find them with relatively few supporters; even those that they retain seem the most politically apathetic group of party supporters, recording much higher levels of ‘Don’t Know’ responses that those of the other parties and the lowest levels of overall reported interest in the three forthcoming votes.

 

There’s a lot of information in these tables. So, to make the patterns a little easier to see I have computed an average score for supporters of each party. Giving a 4 for all those who responded ‘Very’, 3 to those choosing ‘Fairly’, 2 for those selecting ‘Not very’ and 1 to those choosing ‘Not at all’, what are the average scores for supporters of each party in terms of their interest in each type of electoral contest? (Don’t Knows were left out – which may tend to inflate the Lib-Dems’ scores slightly). I’ve put the results in the following three charts (click on the chart for it to enlarge):

 

At this stage, of course, we can’t be sure that current levels of interest will equate to levels of turnout. But if there is at least some relationship in this direction, the evidence here would seem to be (mildly) encouraging for prospects of Plaid Cymru on May 5th; but also for supporters of Brexit on June 23rd.

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