A quick note on the Individual Electoral Registration vote tonight and what it means, since I fear it will be badly reported elsewhere. As readers may know, electoral registration has now moved over from household registration (where one member of the household filled in a form to register everyone) to individual registration (there is still a household form to sign off for no change, but new registrations need to be done individually). Making it a little harder to register has created a lot of concern about whether it will lead to falling registration, particularly in residential communities like student halls of residence, where in the past the university authority could have registered everyone en masse.

That, however, is for another time. Tonight’s vote isn’t about the principle of individual registration and will make no difference to whether it happens or not. It is on one narrow, but important, part of the transition from household registration to individual registration.

The normal process of electoral registration is – crudely speaking – that once a year there is a canvas of every household, asking people if their details on the electoral register are correct. Local councils will remove entries that are no longer accurate and add on new people. People who don’t reply at all will be badgered with extra letters and knocks on the door, but eventually some people won’t reply. Those people are left on the register for a year, and then if they don’t reply to two canvasses in a row, deleted from the register. People get one year’s grace without being removed.

During the transition process that was different. The annual canvas in 2014 was cancelled for the transition process – people on the old register were matched against government databases, like benefits records, and those who matched were automatically moved across to the new system. Only people who couldn’t be automatically moved across were contacted and required to register on the new system. There was no cleaning of the register though, even if they couldn’t be automatically moved and across and didn’t respond to contacts, people on the old register were kept on the new Dec 2014 register to make sure they didn’t miss out on the general election.

For 2015 the annual canvas was started again, so every household got a letter asking people to confirm their existing details on the register. People who reply were updated (though new people now need to fill in an individual registration) and people who didn’t reply at all were chased. The question to be decided tonight is what to do with people who didn’t reply (or more specifically, people who don’t reply this year and weren’t verified or registered last year either – the year’s grace remains either way).

The legislation setting up individual registration said that people who don’t reply in 2015 should NOT be removed in 2015, but also specifically gave the government the power to change this by statutory instrument and recommence cleaning in 2015 if they preferred. The Electoral Commission recommended the government did not do this, and gave people the extra year’s grace. This is what tonight’s vote is on – are people who weren’t transitioned or re-registered on the new system in 2014 AND did not reply to this year’s electoral canvas left on the register or not?

In May 2015 there were 1.9m people still on the register who hadn’t been registered under the new system. Of course, all of these entries will not be removed, as there has been a full canvas since then and many of them will have replied to this year’s canvas and now be on the new system. It is still likely to be a substantial number. The change only affects people who replied to the electoral canvas at an address in 2013, but have not subsequently replied to electoral registration officers at that address since then, when during that time efforts will have been made to contact them several times for the transition to individual voting and in this year’s annual canvass. They will probably have had to ignore about nine letters reminding them to register. They also need to not be in receipt of benefits at that address and not on other government databases used for data matching, or they would have been automatically registered. In short, a lot of those people probably couldn’t be matched because they don’t live at that address any more, and may or may not be living or registered somewhere else. Finally, it’s worth remembering that people who are left off this December’s register can register to vote up until a couple of weeks before the local/mayoral/police/Scottish/Welsh elections next year.

In terms of the impact on individual voters, I fear there is some hyperbole going on. However, the impact of the vote isn’t just on individual voters, it’s important for another reason – arguably more so. The registers published on the 1st December this year are the ones that will be used for the new boundary review, and the removal of these rolled over names will make a difference. In the twenty council areas with the highest number of people held over from the 2013 register, about 11% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over, in the twenty council areas with the lowest number of people rolled over about 1% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over. The places with lots of held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Labour held areas, the places with few held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Conservative held areas. Again, remember many of these people will probably have been picked up in this year’s canvas, so it doesn’t mean 11% and 1% will be removed – the numbers will be lower than that – but it does mean the number of people on the registers will drop more in Labour areas than in Conservative areas.

Cleaning people who have not responded to the canvas off the register will decrease the registered electorate in inner-city Labour areas and make the boundary review better for the Conservatives. Leaving them on will make the boundary review better for Labour. We don’t know what proportion of the rolled over entries on the register relate to real people still living at those addresses and what proportion are “dead entries” related to people who no longer live at that address. The Conservatives can argue that leaving inaccurate entries on the register would skew the review by bumping up the electorate in areas with inaccurate registers full of outdated entries, Labour can argue that harshly pruning the register would skew the review by under-representing the electorate in areas of social-deprivation with populations who are less likely to register to vote. I suspect neither are entirely free from self-interest, but one way or the other it has to be decided: Parliament has until Monday to annul the statutory instrument or it remains law.

103 Responses to “A note about tonight’s IER vote”

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  1. Some of the entries on the register that will be removed will have been fraudulent in the first place. The only question is, how many?

  2. It is surely right to keep the register as up to date as possible. If after multiple approaches people fail to respond it is not the local council’s fault and people should be removed.

  3. Research carried out by the Electoral Commission in 2014 suggested that 7.5 million people eligible to vote were not on the electoral register, a 1.5 million increase from 2010. This is a staggering figure and the question we should really be debating isn’t in whose marginal self-interest it may be how a parliamentary vote goes tonight on existing register cleansing, but instead on how we get the missing 7.5 million people on the register in the first place.

    I haven’t done all the maths, but a crude estimate tells me that if you add up the 35% of voters who don’t turn out now to the 7.5 million who aren’t registered, you’re getting pretty near to 50% of the adult population now not participating in General Elections. Is it any wonder then that the 2015 election was the least representative in our history? The Electoral Reform Society wrote a superb and detailed report on the 2015 election, referring to our current electoral system as now a “blight on democracy”. I couldn’t have put it better and for those who haven’t read the report, it’s both fascinating and deeply disturbing in equal measure.


    I wonder how many unregistered voters participate in voting intention opinion polls? It’s a bit like being asked the ultimate academic question, isn’t it?

    Talking of polls, and I’m a bit of an agnostic about them now after the 2015 election debacle, but what are we to make of polls coinciding with each, some other showing meagre 4% Tory leads whilst others show large 13% leads.

    It’s all starting to look very silly again, isn’t it?

  4. Very few entries on the register are fraudulent. This is a non-issue.

    Anthony has provided a very fair summary, which is that both main parties are self-interested, and both have valid arguments about what is the “correct” base for redistribution. He is also correct that the actual impact on voting is quite small – the real issue is about redistribution, and he is further also correct that this won’t be reported properly by any of the mainstream media.

    I think personally that the best way to deal with this (as many other countries do) is to deal with constituency sizes via census, which gives the most accurate count of those eligible to vote, which is I think most people will agree is the corrrect base for constituency size. This would mean a redistribution of boundaries every 10 years, or every 2 elections, which seems about right.

  5. The important point to make is that the transition period for introducing IER was not supposed to end until December 2016. There is a provision to enable this to happen a year earlier if the government thinks it would be a good idea (and Parliament approves). The idea behind this was presumably that if everyone thought the transition had already been completed successfully and no one had been left off by accident, then IER could go ahead early.

    But no one really thinks that the process has been successfully completed everywhere and that the new registers are comprehensive. In particular the Electoral Commission don’t think it should go ahead. They issued a report in June:


    which concluded (p 54):

    Taking into account the data and evidence which is available to us at this point and the significant polls which are scheduled for May 2016, we recommend that Ministers should not make an order to bring forward the end of the transition to IER. We recommend that the end date for IER transition should remain, as currently provided for in law, December 2016

    [their bold]

    So the government is imposing this against the explicit advice of the EC.

  6. Perhaps a compromise might be to delay both the Boundary Review and the full implementation of IER by a year.

    It would be hard for anyone to oppose this. Always amazes me the mess politicians get into by trying to be too clever and too partisan.

  7. JC – unlikely for several reasons, mainly the timing of the boundary review. It takes a couple of years to do. Currently it reports in autumn 2018 and starts once the new registers are all collected in the spring probably about April, so has c. 29 months to do the work. That means the boundaries are in place about 19 months before the election for things like candidate selections.

    If you move it a year later you’ve only got 9 months between boundaries and election… less time than you’d want for candidate selection.

    Or you shorten the time the boundary commissions take to do the job. Judging by the progress they made last time I think this can be done to an extent – they looked ahead of schedule to me – but you couldn’t trim it by a year unless you truncated the process. Personally I think would could do that without too much loss, but I suspect a further reduction in the consultation in the process would be seen as unacceptable by most.

    The more political, but probably more important reason, is that it would need primary legislation. The previous bill changing the rules got filibustered in the Lords last time and I doubt the government wants to revisit that experience.

    If it came it to I think the government would rather just see the boundary review go ahead on the old register than risk re-opening that whole damn can of worms. It won’t make THAT much difference.

  8. “It’s very easy to say “we should have higher wages instead of Tax Credits” but those higher wages will come at the expense of corporate profits.”

    Not necessarily. They wouldn’t in the approach Couper suggests, nor insofar as they were a result of rising unemployment e.g. via an extremely high minimum wage or ultra-powerful unions.

    On IVR and the boundary review, I do wonder if things like this, and the fact that FPTP no longer benefits Labour vs. the Tories in the way it did 10 years ago, might change attitudes in Labour on PR. However, the fact that UKIP have replaced the Lib Dems (for now) as the third party could be a reason to be sceptical of PR if you’re in Labour.

  9. Nedludd,

    You’re missing the details of what Couper was talking about entirely. Please re-read the relevant comment.

  10. Anthony,
    I do seem to recall that the boundary changes that came into effect for the 1983 election did so at pretty short notice – having been subject to a failed legal challenge by Labour under Michael Foot. Perhaps that implies that the impact of a 12 month delay would not be too dramatic – 9 months is still a fair bit longer than occurred prior to the 1983 changes.

  11. @Nedludd

    Productivity is the, I would say only, sustainable answer to low wages. So, the tax and NI system can be used to give tax breaks for capital investment and staff training.

    In fact Tax Credits are likely to be harming productivity because to make a capital investment a company needs a business plan with a ‘return on investment’. If wages are subsidised by the state then the ROI will be much less or negative so the business plan won’t pass. The goal of economic policy should be a high employment and high productivity economy and this would generate high GDP.

    We should not be taxing the low paid so we should have high tax thresholds and I suggest a tax free allowance on top of basic rate threshold for people with children or other caring responsibilities.

    I think (apart from maybe the tax free allowance) is where Osborne wants to go and should be where Labour wants to go also.

    Labour becoming so associated with tax credits is probably a longer term mistake.

    SNP are rabidly against the tax credit cuts, but on that I think it is more anti-Tory anti-WM positioning. I doubt they would include tax credits in a welfare system they designed. It will be interesting to see how they use the limited welfare powers when they get them but I suspect we won’t be seeing tax credits feature.

  12. Todays GDP figures seem to provide clear evidence of economic slowdown – with the Manufacturing sector back in recession.

  13. Hi gang! Hope the bits that are hanging continue to hang well. As ever, can’t stop. Just wanted to thank @AnthonyJWells for putting all the EU referendum polls in one place. I would prefer them back to, say, 1965, but that would be greedy. As ever, Anthony, many thanks for your hard and unpaid work for us perpetually ungrateful folk, it’s appreciated.

  14. Graham – crikey yes, much later (final leave to appeal from the House of Lords was refused in February 1983).

    The boundary commissions had completed their work by summer 1982 when the legal case commenced, so what the boundary recommendations were would (presumably) have been known earlier, but the question mark over what set of boundaries would be used was there until a few months before the election.

    Either way, that was obviously circumstances that were forced by the court case, rather than by design. I don’t know what attitude was taken at the time – presumably parties selected on the new boundaries and had some sort of contingency plans.

    That said, am I right in thinking candidate selection tended to be closer to the election in the past anyway and that over time we’ve moved more and more in the direction of selecting a long way before elections? Not sure if that is a good or bad thing – obviously it gives people more time to get to know Parliamentary candidates, but it must work against the diversity of MPs if you have to have a career that allows you to nurse a seat for 2 years before an election.

  15. Graham – your comment does make me think of another consideration though, the fact that there often are legal challenges to boundary changes, so you probably want to leave time not just for the interests of the political parties in selecting candidates, etc, but also to resolve any outstanding legal challenges.

    Foot et al on the 3rd review is the famous case, but there have been other much more limited legal challenges – for example, I recall there were a couple after the 5th review (the one implemented in 2005) on how many seats certain counties should be granted.

  16. Anthony, as someone who was a political activist in the 1970s and 1980s, I believe that you are correct that selections generally took place much closer to the election.

    However everything was much less “professional” in those days, with a lot less of the targetting that happens now. And the Liberals upped the ante by introducing the nursing of constituencies, and having success with it.

    One problem, little commented on, with the present situation is that candidates have to give up any job they may have, if they want to stand for parliament (in a seat where they might be elected). This has given a big boost to the proportion of career politicians, who have never done a proper job. Like many on this site, (and indeed the public as I seem to remember a poll on the subject), I regret this, not so much for the usual “out of touch” opinion, as for the loss of relevant experience and therefore governmental competence.

  17. I am not sure that timing was so different back in the 1970s/80s re candidate selection. In Pembroke I recall Labour selected its PPC in October 1975 – for what was a very marginal seat. I myself was selected as a PPC for a totally unwinnable constituency in February 1977 – over two years before the General Election.

  18. @John Chanin

    “I think personally that the best way to deal with this (as many other countries do) is to deal with constituency sizes via census….”

    I agree, especially when it’s generally acknowledged now that our electoral register is so out of kilter with the size of the voting age population. If the conservative estimate of 7.5 million adults missing from the register is anything like true, and this figure may grow after IER and the register cleansing exercise, then how or why would you consider calculating constituency sizes and boundaries in any other way? Census data gives you the actual population, the electoral register only those who’ve actively opted to register to vote. The gap between the two in the past was small but it’s now yawned. Divide the constituencies on actual population size and then come up with a way of getting the millions who haven’t registered thus far to then do so. What about compulsory registration with penalties for failing to register or, failing that, maybe we should just automatically update the register from the census data every 10 years? Where’s there’s a will there’s a way, I would think.

    Of course, there may be political considerations that influence the strength of will.

    @Bill Patrick

    ” and the fact that FPTP no longer benefits Labour vs. the Tories in the way it did 10 years ago,”

    I’m not sure that’s true, is it? FPTP has favoured BOTH Labour and the Tories massively for well over 50 years now, certainly in relation to the smaller parties, although, arguably and ironically, the main beneficiaries of FPTP in May 2015 were the SNP! What favoured Labour in the past were the constituency boundaries when, for a period, it needed less voters to elect a Labour MP than it did a Tory one, but this was a product of differential turnout as much as anything else and it never twisted the election result, merely the size of the majority gained.

    My concern is a simple one. The combination of the growing numbers of unregistered voters and the low levels of turnout is now delivering us governments elected on almost derisory percentages of the adult population in the UK. Voting will soon be a minority activity and democratic legitimacy will begin to ebb away from our politics.

    Some may argue that it already has..

  19. Been hearing rumours all day of an imminent Ipsos/Mori national poll putting Lab and Con level at 35% Anyone else heard anything to confirm or disprove this?

  20. “I’m not sure that’s true, is it?”

    Yes, it is. The system favours the Conservatives over Labour now (obviously it favours both the large parties over smaller GB parties, but that’s how FPTP is supposed to work… it’s a feature, not a bug. FPTP will always do that, if you want a system that doesn’t look at PR systems).

    The skew in the system is a combination of lots of different factors. The pattern of turnout still favours Labour, constituency size still favours Labour. The distribution of the vote used to favour Labour, but was broadly neutral in 2010 and now favours the Tories – it’s now Labour who pile up votes in the wrong places.

    The huge difference though is the impact of third parties – the collapse of the Lib Dems, growth of UKIP and dominance of the SNP completely transformed that factor and it now heavily favours the Conservatives. Hence, if Labour and the Conservatives now had an equal amount of votes the Conservatives would have considerably more seats.

    Oh, and it’a already compulsory to register. It has long been a criminal offence not to co-operate with the annual canvas. The IER legislation also introduced a new fixed penalty fine of £80 for anyone who does not return their individual registration form when invited to do so. How widely the penalty is used is, of course, a different matter. We shall see.

  21. Sven Hassel Schmuck –

    I know where that’s from. MORI put out their monthly poll yesterday and the proper headline figures are CON 36%, LAB 32%.

    However, if you look in the table their numbers before their turnout filter would have been 35% a piece, so it’s people latching onto the wrong numbers from the raw tables.

  22. Thanks for your response Anthony. I had a feeling it was something like that.

  23. @Anthony W

    “Oh, and it’a already compulsory to register. It has long been a criminal offence not to co-operate with the annual canvas. The IER legislation also introduced a new fixed penalty fine of £80 for anyone who does not return their individual registration form when invited to do so. How widely the penalty is used is, of course, a different matter. We shall see.”

    Crikey, with an estimated 7.5 million unregistered voters then those fines should bring in enough to eliminate the deficit, shouldn’t they??!


  24. Crossbat – it’s aimed at people who local electoral services *know* aren’t registered, send a form too but don’t reply.

    I’m no idea how many such people there are. I always imagined that the registration gap at canvas time* is people who don’t return the household form and aren’t in when they get door knocked. Deliberately refusing to fill in the form when challenged is a criminal offence, but it’s rarely prosecuted because I expect it rarely happens – contact is just never made.

    IER introduces that new potential point of failure – people who are reported via the household form, but then don’t return the individual registration form. The fine is aimed at that lot – it’s new, so who knows how common it will be and how often fines will be issued. Given its a fixed civil penalty, it’ll be a lot easier for local councils to use it than labourious criminal prosecution for not doing the household form, but who knows if they will.

    (*At any point later in the year the gap will increasingly be people who have moved address since the canvas but not re-registered at their new address)

  25. The important feature of the 2016 register will, as AW says, be to determine which areas get representation in the 2020 parliamentary elections, in terms of the number of MPs they are allocated. Areas where a disproportionate share of the population fail to register will lose MPs and those are Labour areas, which explains why the Government was so keen to dismiss the Electoral Commission’s recommendation.

    What removing the carried forward names will do is expose just how much the new 2016 register has fallen, compared to the one in Feb 2014 that was the last conducted under the previous system of household registration. In practice, the carrying forward of unprecedented numbers of non-responders in 2015 (1.9m compared to 1.3m under household registration) just covered up the failure of IER, because most can reasonably be assumed to have moved on even by May 2015, and so by artificially boosting the numbers remaining on the register they hid the scale of the problem with IER. Even without this, numbers registered had already fallen relative to population, compared to the last 2010 general election.

    I think is it too much of a coincidence that in May 2015 the biggest failure of opinion polling for 23 years coincided with a revolutionary change in the way that people had to register to vote. In response to IER the polling companies failed to make any adjustment to their turnout methodology or even to enquire about voter registration. Unlike 1992, when the causes of the polling failure were readily apparent in hindsight, they are still scratching their heads this time. I think that consideration of the impact of IER may provide a substantial part of the answer.

  26. Anthony – The “Basic GB Swingometer” (link at the top of the right hand column) is still based on the 2010 GE result.

    Is there a problem somewhere – as you posted a while back that it had been updated to be based on the 2015 GE result.

  27. MikeL – Nope, just haven’t done that one yet. The two graphical ones are updated, but not that one.

  28. Ah OK – thanks a lot!

  29. Johm Chann
    “Very few entries on the register are fraudulent. This is a non-issue. ”

    Can I ask how you know that? Here’s a link to a report by the Electoral Commission which shows that there are areas of concern.

    To those who are saying that the census returns should be used instead of voter registration I would say that there would be a big overlap between those who will not register to vote and those who do not fill out a census form. These people presumably want to operate ‘below the radar’ though I would be surprised if they did not feel themselves entitled to NHS treatment, JSA etc. There is certainly no reason why constituency sizes should be based on guesstimates of how many of these people live in a particular area.

  30. Of course one thing that government forcing through the IER change does is to make it much easier for the Commons to reject the new boundaries[1] when they are brought forward in 2018 or whenever. All the opposition parties (including the NI ones) were likely to oppose, but this gives them the perfect excuse to go against what will be promoted as ‘fairer’ boundaries by proclaiming they are nothing of the sort.

    More to the point it also means that Conservative backbenchers, afraid of losing out in the musical chairs of re-selection, also have an excuse to vote against. Last time only four, all awkward squad members, did so, presumably citing the reduction in MP numbers, but then those worried by the changes could rely on the Lib Dems to vote it down. Now they have the perfect reason to be ‘disloyal’ – and protect their seats. Welsh Tories may be particularly tempted by this, but a lot of others will be uneasy as well.

    [1] It’s a sign of the Electoral Commission’s usual timidity that they barely mention this in their long report I linked to above. In fact the only two times they do, are just before their recommendations not to bring forward the end of the transitional period, to say this played no part in their decision.

  31. The only reason I have heard for the reduction of the number of Commons seats while the population is still rising, is that a higher proportion of the governing party’s MPs will have government jobs, thus reducing the likelihood of rebellion. Is there another reason?

    This is a separate issue of course to whether boundaries should be reviewed every few years because of population movement.

  32. @Pete B

    “To those who are saying that the census returns should be used instead of voter registration I would say that there would be a big overlap between those who will not register to vote and those who do not fill out a census form.”

    But the census (and its subsequent updating through the process of mid-year population estimates) makes allowance for this, through a lengthy process called “underenumeration”. The Office for National Statistics goes to great lengths to make the best possible estimates of where the missing population lives, and adjusts the census population figures accordingly. By contrast, electoral registration is based only on those households (and now only those individuals) who register. The now-ceased practice of carrying forward names in non-responding households was the only way that some of the gaps were plugged although a far from perfect one.

    In summary, in terms of accuracy, ONS data has always been regarded as the Rolls Royce of population estimates, while aggregates from electoral registers were the equivalent of Ladas, and IER has just caused the engine of the Lada to seize.

  33. Pete B – my impression was always that they thought it gave them a good political justification for having a boundary review earlier than planned – “oh, we can say we’re cutting the cost of politics!”. To that end, I don’t think it worked very well.

    The actual change to a fixed number of seats is probably a good thing, certainly the old rules simply did not work. By statute the rules were supposed to produce a HoC that had about 613 seats in England, Scotland and Wales… but the actual calculations set out within the rules had a ratchet effect which inevitably increased the number of seats at each review, meaning it was impossible for them to actually recommend as few as 613 seats. The actual number picked – 600 – seems pretty arbitrary.

    Anyway, that said can we steer clear of speculating about the motives of governments and oppositions in choosing policies – given we cannot see inside their souls, it normally tells us more about the political prejudices of the person doing the speculation.

  34. Phil – carrying forward hasn’t ceased. People will still be carried forward for one year, as they have been in the past. The issue at stake last night was whether people from the final pre-IER register would be carried forward for an extra year.

  35. @Phil Haines

    Very good. Better than my response would have been.

    @Pete B

    I live in Birmingham where electoral problems have been rife, and which is one of the areas that led the Electoral Commission to recommend IER. But registering of phantom people is not a significant problem. The problems relate rather to the stealing of votes through a combination of patronage politics and postal voting, which will not be prevented in any way by the change to IER. It will have an effect on the second major problem which is voting in the name of someone else (who has moved), although presenting ID at the polling station would be much more effective here. Nor will it prevent real people being registered at an address where they don’t live.

    I’m not saying registering phantom people doesn’t happen, only that it is not a significant problem.

  36. Postal voting should only be in the event of serious medical incapacity. It is not private and voters can be coerced or persuaded to vote a certain way.

  37. @AW

    Thank you for the clarification.

    To be clear, carrying forward of names from whole household registrations was maintained initially under IER but will now cease. What we will now get is only the carrying forward of people who had previously registered individually at the same address.

    So I accept that there will still be carrying forward, but there is still going to be a big fall in the numbers. Because of all of the problems with IER, carried forward names rose to 1.9m at the time of the GE, compared to 1.3m on the last household register from Feb 2014. I will be very surprised to see the number break 1m under IER, because so few people will have previously registered individually in those difficult-to-reach transient households. About 0.5m would be my best guess.

    The underlying problems with IER are many. But to give just a flavour, under the old system to ensure that everyone was registered in a household of three new people, it required just one person out of three to act when they receive a form. Now for 2016 for any household of new people it still would still require one out of three to act initially when receiving the household registration enquiry form, but then all three to act when receiving the follow up individual registration form. It’s not difficult to see how numbers registered will dwindle under this system, particularly amongst people who tend to move home frequently, once all the old carried forward names are removed.

    I am looking forward to the publication of the 2016 registers, if only because they will be so obviously flawed and incomplete that it will no longer be possible to hide the fact that IER has caused a marked deterioration in the quality of electoral registration in the UK, one that carrying forward partially papered over in May 2015.

    My advice to YouGov for what it’s worth is that you should look very carefully at IER as a major contributor to the polling failure in 2015.

  38. Phil – don’t worry, we’ve looked at whether people who responded to polls actually ended up voting in the end. And we’ve looked at people who said they voted actually were on the electoral register and actually did (by checking the marked register).

    BES will be doing the same but on a bigger scale, and the inquiry will almost certainly be doing the same using the BES’s data.

    Turnout is one of the big things being looked at, and obviously whether people voted, whether people were on the register to begin with, etc, is all part of that.

  39. The only possible problem with, and reason to want to avoid, ‘phantom registration’ is that it distorts the numbers of registered voters in a region. The only practical use of that in government terms is constituency sizing and apportionment. And the ideal resolution there, would be to use Population Census data not Voter Registration data.

    I fail to see how ‘phantom registration’ can be a major issue to polling. Voter registration rolls have always been inaccurate, so using “Are you registered to vote?” and shaping on that was always introducing error not reducing it.

  40. I think the population is growing and changing too rapidly these days for a once in every 10 year census to be the best solution. Regional population growth is particularly variable, and so we really need more a more regular census to take place so that we can plan local services and housing much better. Therefore, my solution would be a kind of compromise i.e. to link changes to population numbers but carry out a census every 5 years.

    Of course, it’s all largely irrelevant as a Tory government will always seek to link boundary changes to voter registration every 5 years and Labour will always seek to link it to a census so it’s every 10 years (and linked to population numbers) and/or delay boundary reviews for as long as possible. That’s the nature of politics.

  41. @Anthony Wells

    Good to know that you’re on the case.

    You have to be careful though – the underlying problem is whether the pattern of (non)registration amongst people who respond to YouGov surveys is typical of the pattern amongst those whom YouGov don’t contact or who don’t respond.

    I suspect that you’ll find some effect but if so I would expect that to be only the tip of the iceberg, because most of the non-registration will be among the part of the population who by definition are poor at responding and who as a consequent will generally not t take part in YouGov surveys. The BES et al will have the same problem. That means it will be very difficult to accurately quantify precisely how much of the polling failure could be attributed to a deteriorating electoral register.

  42. Ambiv – you are quite right about timing, the Conservatives have almost invariably tried to hurry along boundary reviews (both Cameron and Major legislated to bring boundary reviews forward, Heath and Thatcher implemented boundary reviews that were already overdue or pending when they came to power) and Labour have often tried to delay them (they voted to block the 2nd review in 1969, Foot took legal action to delay the 3rd in 1982, and the most recent was successfully blocked by Labour and the Lib Dems)

    Whether they are based on registration or census though has not in the past been a contentious or partisan issue though – all the post-war boundary reviews have been based on electoral registers, rather than census figures. The last reorganisation based on the census was 1918.

  43. @Ambivalent Supporter

    In practice the ONS have pretty good data sources that let them update population estimates annually, starting from the adjusted total taken at the time of the census. There is a wealth of official central government data sources out there that shows which parts of the country are growing, and which are not. One data source that they don’t use is electoral registers, because the ONS questions their overall reliability and the lack of consistency with which they are drawn up when comparing one area with another.

    The limitations with the census are more in terms of the characteristics of the population, as opposed to the overall population count, which is particularly important in small area statistics where the census has a unique value. And that, as you say, is why there is a case for a census more than once every ten years.

  44. Phil – that’s a different problem!

    If there are people who are not on the register AND aren’t being included in polls then it’s the latter that’s the relevant issue.

    If we don’t have those people in our samples to begin with, we can’t tell if they’ll have accurately said if they’d vote, or what questions we can ask to accurately model people’s likelihood of both being on the register and voting. Before you can worry about accurately measuring people you need to actually include them.

    Anyway. I am getting ahead of myself – I am sure all of this will be discussed at far more length when the BPC inquiry and more from the pollsters internal inquiries is released.

  45. Afternoon folks, thanks AW for a interesting thread, which actually discusses the real issue rather than a partisan parody of it, something that’s becoming less and less prevalent on the Interweb.

    As an election geek (who isn’t on this site?), I’m always interested in the way that different countries run their elections, whether it is their voting systems, or simply the manner in which voting is performed and counted.
    In Germany, the contrast between electoral rolls and eligible population hasn’t been an issue for many years – in fact, there hasn’t been a proper census since the 1980s because of privacy concerns. However, when you change address, you are legally required (usually within a week or two) to register with the local authority (In fact, without the so-called Meldebescheinigung you usually can’t open a bank account or register for health insurance). Although I’m not a German citizen, I can vote in local elections (for the city council or mayor), and the voting form for these elections arrived automatically. Hence, the entire concept of an electoral roll becomes essentially meaningless. (As an aside, this means that electoral turnout is not really comparable between the UK and Germany).

    Like a number of people on this site, I followed the recent Canadian federal election (by the way, what happened to the Canadian Green Party supporter who was telling us UKIP would win loads of seats before the GE?). Not being an expert on Canada at all, I found it rather interesting, and the CBC coverage was extremely good. One thing that was very apparent is that the elections are counted by polling booth and as each precinct is completed, the figures are updated. This, as in the US (and also in Germany), allows for projections to be made before the entirety of votes in a constituency is counted. Considering the enormous size of Canadian electoral ridings (the entire territory of Nunavut is one riding!), it would be totally impractial to gather all the votes of an area together. Has there ever been a suggestion to do this in the UK? Obviously, for urban constituencies, it would offer little advantage, but for geographically larger constituencies, surely it would make more sense to count a few hundred votes from a village, rather than drive them for an hour to a leisure centre where they are counted at 4am? If anything, it would get rid of that dull period on election nights after Sunderland South has its results, followed by two or three hours of talking heads talking about “mandates”……

  46. The census should be used as opposed to the electoral register to decide constituency size and it should include everyone even people below voting age.

    And MP represents an area whether they register or turnout to vote. And an MP’s decisions effect children and young people so these should be included. Just because you are not on the register or a child doesn’t mean you don’t need help from the MP. All MPs would then serve the same number of people.

    Using the register implies that only those eligible to vote should be represented.

  47. It would be nice to think that all politicians, of whatever party political hue, would be interested in reviving our ailing democracy, and the combination of systemic low turnout, an unrepresentative voting system and the vast numbers now not registering to vote is so serious now that is beginning to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of our elections. That can’t be good for any politician let alone the wider public. The recent ERS report on the 2015 General Election should be a wake up call for all of us.

    So, in this fanciful world where all our politicians want to address this creeping disaster, maybe a genuinely independent Royal Commission type body, with cross party support, could be formed to look into what needs to be done. The Commission might oversee and spawn the work of a range of sub-commissions that would each address electoral reform, party funding, voter registration, constituency boundaries and a whole host of other related issues too. Maybe the Commission’s recommendations would become binding ones or, failing that, the inspiration for parties to put in manifestos at election time. That way we could let the voters decide which party’s proposals on these matters were the most attractive. Referendums may be required too.

    Of course, as I said, I’m probably residing in a very fanciful world.


  48. The problem with commissions is that they’re only a good thing if they come up with answer that one agrees with.

    As pretty much anyone going into that process would have firm views about what they wanted to see, everything would depend on exactly who was on the commission.

    The commission is only going to conclude that proportionality is important if it is composed of people for whom that is the priority.

    Conversely, if it is packed with people who think that a direct and undiluted constituency link is the most important thing it will come to different conclusions..

  49. @Neil A

    “Conversely, if it is packed with people who think that a direct and undiluted constituency link is the most important thing it will come to different conclusions..”

    That depends on how thoroughly they take evidence and how susceptible they are to persuasion. I accept your point that it would be virtually impossible to populate a Commission with people who were completely open-minded and devoid of some initial preferences, but surely its possible to convene something that isn’t riddled with party political self-interest and can approach these subjects reasonably objectively.

    I don’t trust the politicians because too many have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

  50. Good evening all from Wokingham.

    Deprived areas have a lower turn out than more affluent areas so I can’t see IER having any impact on a election result.

    Labour may well lose out on terms of actual votes but I don’t think they will lose any seats as a result because Labour held seats tend to be more deprived and the majorities tend to be vast wiping out any lost votes by people not registering.

    Key marginals tend not to be typical Tory or Labour seats so again IER shouldn’t be a factor.

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