Voter turnout could swing EU referendum and there’s a hole in the electoral register

Conservative changes to the voting system mean that young Remain supporters are less likely to be on the electoral roll


It’s becoming clear that voter turnout is one of the deepest fault lines in the Remain campaign, and that the leading parties need to commit more energy and resources to mobilising their base.

New Opinium research, commissioned by the Observer, shows that 50 per cent of Brexit-backing voters believe that EU membership is one of the three most important issues affecting the UK, while just 15 per cent of Remain supporters feel the same way.

There’s a major generational divide in engagement levels. 12 per cent of 25-34 year-olds consider EU membership a major issue, while 53 per cent over-65s rank it in their top three.

Additionally, just 15 per cent of Labour voters and 16 per cent of Londoners consider the EU a major issue.

Clearly, the rhetoric that describes this as the most important vote of our lives simply isn’t trickling down to the young, urban, progressive base of Remain supporters. The Outers, on the other hand, have an enthusiastic core of voters in demographics with traditionally high turnout rates.

As Matthew Goodwin writes for the Times, once this data is taken into account it becomes ‘quite easy to challenge the widespread belief that Remain will win and, instead, chart a plausible route to Brexit.’

He directs much of his criticism towards the Labour leadership, citing the fact that over 40 per cent of voters don’t even know what Labour’s position on the EU is. 

There is no question: Jeremy Corbyn needs to do vastly more to mobilise Labour supporters.

However, if turnout does have a decisive impact on the referendum, the Conservatives will also have a great deal to answer for, because they are responsible for the gaping hole in the electoral register.

Almost 800,000 names have been deleted from the electoral roll this year, as a result of Conservative changes that require individual, rather than household, registration. Overall, since its peak in 2012, the number of names on the register has fallen by 1.6m.

While the Government maintains that the names removed were ghost entries, many legitimate voters were disenfranchised, particularly younger people, who are less likely to have stable accommodation, and more likely to vote Remain.

The move was widely perceived as political, with Gloria De Piero, Labour’s shadow minister for young people and voter registration, describing it as ‘another example of David Cameron and the Conservative party trying to rig the system for their own political ends.’

If that was the case, it has backfired horribly as Cameron now faces the possibility of a defeat in the most important vote of his career, fuelled by his own anti-participation policies.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. 

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7 Responses to “Voter turnout could swing EU referendum and there’s a hole in the electoral register”

  1. Phil Jones

    Roll on 23 June!! LEAVE!! LEAVE!! LEAVE!! I can hardly wait to cast my vote!!

  2. Cole

    Phil Jones – do go away. This isn’t a UKIP site.

  3. SmokedKipper

    Bloody hell, it’s another key thing that could “swing” the referendum. There have been a lot of big articles like this in the mainstream media recently. I read one saying that Women are the key. Another that Young People are the key. Another that LGBT people are the key. Another that Pensioners are the key. Another that Ethnic Minority Voters are the key. Now this article tells me that Voter Turnout is the key.

    That’s a lot of keys. Or maybe it’s just pointless clickbait dressed up as journalism. A cynic might suggest that the media are struggling to say anything particularly sensible and would rather focus on the Tory soap opera.

  4. Mike Stallard

    “over 40 per cent of voters don’t even know what Labour’s position on the EU is. ”
    Mr Corbyn has a track record of being very against our staying in the EU. Now he doesn’t say much about it really.
    So what exactly is the Labour position?
    I await the unveiling ceremony with interest.

  5. jason, not ukip , not a sheep can think for himself

    to be honest I want to leave have watched the disgrace called Europe last twenty years more corrupt than the tory’s, we can trade with and will trade with Europe , it wont cost jobs to get out,just think Europe 500 million people , the rest of the world who we can trade with 6 billion.also we can really trade with the commonwealth who we shafted when we joined the unelected club , time to be a free country

  6. Three lessons for EU campaigners on Scotland’s would-be Independence Day | Left Foot Forward

    […] That’s why Jeremy Corbyn has refused to share a platform with the Tories in the run-up to the EU vote. It may also explain why—with David Cameron dominating the discussion—Labour’s pro-Europe campaign still hasn’t gotten off the ground. […]

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