Attitudes to Voting and the Political Process

Research by the MORI Social Research Institute/Electoral Commission on public attitudes in the 2001 general election shows interest in politics has remained stable over the past three decades: people are no more 'turned-off' by politics than they were in the past.

Research by the MORI Social Research Institute/Electoral Commission on public attitudes in the 2001 general election shows interest in politics has remained stable over the past three decades: people are no more 'turned-off' by politics than they were in the past. Civic duty and habit are key motivators to voting and people have positive attitudes towards voting. Despite this, turnout at 59% in the 2001 general election was the lowest in any general election since 1918.

The research was carried out in two phases, interviewing UK representative samples between 9-15 May (Phase 1) and 9-18 June (Phase 2). The surveys were designed to gauge public attitudes towards voting, elections and the political process to inform the Commission's report on the 2001 general election.

Why did people not vote on June 7th?

When asked why they did not vote, unprompted answers focus less on the parties and disinterest than on practical considerations. Many of the reasons given for non-voting relate to inconvenience and difficulties 'getting along':

  • 21% say "I couldn't get to the polling station because it was too inconvenient"
  • 16% say they "were away on election day"
  • 15% say they were "not registered to vote"
  • 11% say they "did not receive a polling card/postal vote"
  • 10% say they are "not interested in politics."

Findings from Phase 2 suggest people voted despite the campaign not because of it. By 2:1 (66% to 29%) people disagree that "it was an interesting election campaign". 61% of those who said they were very interested in politics at Phase 1 said, at Phase 2, that they did not find the election campaign interesting. The 2001 election did not connect with people and made them view it differently to previous ones: 26% of those who in Phase 1 disagreed that "voting does not make much of a difference", agreed that this time they "did not believe that voting would make much of a difference".

Given the UK's secret ballot, there is no definitive data on turnout among different age and sub-groups. However, MORI's estimates (based on aggregates of all its election polls) suggest that turnout fell to around 39% among 18-24 year olds. The results also suggest a lower turnout among black people and those living in urban areas.

What could make a difference to turnout?

  • 66% of non-voters say they would have been more likely to vote on June 7 if they could have done so by phone/mobile phone
  • 51% of non-voters say that voting by post would have made them more likely to vote (while this method was universally available this year, this survey shows that 44% of non-voters were unaware of the recent law change)
  • Younger non-voters appear to be more receptive to changes to the mechanics of voting but this age group is less committed to the idea of voting as a civic duty, suggesting that it needs additional reasons to turn-out.
More detailed analysis of findings

Phase 1 - Technical Details

 

  • MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,801 adults aged 18+ across the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland)
  • The sample included a "booster" sample of 301 ethnic minority respondents
  • Interviews were conducted by telephone on 9-15 May 2001
  • Data are weighted to the known population profile.

Phase 1 - results

Reasons for Voting and Not Voting
Attitudes to Changing the Voting Process
Frequency of Voting and Attitudes towards Voting
Knowledge of and Satisfaction with Institutions
Sources of Information on Politics and the Political Process
Socio-Political Activism

Phase 2 - Technical Details

  • MORI re-interviewed 1,162 of the 1,472 Phase 1 respondents who agreed to be re-contacted
  • Interviews were conducted by telephone between 9-18 June 2001
  • The final sample includes 257 interviews with ethnic minority respondents
  • Data are weighted to the known population profile

This approach provided the opportunity to see how views had changed over time. However, it is important to remember that there may have been an element of 'conditioning' with respondents' interest and participation in the election being boosted by taking part in the Phase 1 survey. Additionally, while those who agreed to be re-contacted are demographically similar in profile to all Phase 1 respondents, there are some attitudinal differences e.g. they are more likely to say that they are interested in politics and that they 'always' vote at general elections.

Phase 2 - results

Reasons for Voting and Not Voting
Impressions of the Election Campaign
Knowledge About and Interest In The Election Campaign
Reach and Effectiveness of Election Campaign Coverage
Attitudes towards Changing the Voting Process

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