Today the British Election Study published its face-to-face data for the 2017 election. The BES has two main elements: one is a large online panel element, using the same respondents in multiple waves so that they can track change at an individual level. The other part is a smaller face-to-face element, using a genuine random sample to try and get the best sample possible. The face-to-face element is also cross-referenced with the marked electoral register (that is, the copy of the register in polling stations where people’s names are crossed off as they vote) so that they can verify after the election whether people genuinely did or did not vote.

This means the face-to-face data is by far the best data we have on actual turnout levels and on turnout levels among different demographic groups. When discussing turnout I’m often asked about the official figures for turnout among men and women, young and old, and have to explain that these figures do not exist. While there are official figures of the numbers of votes cast in each constituency and the number of people on the electoral register (a different figure, note, to the number of people who are actually eligible to vote, where there is an absence of official data), there are no actual figures for turnout among demographic sub-groups of the population. We know how many people voted, but not details of their age, gender, class or other demographics.

Up until now there has been a widespread narrative that in 2018 Labour managed to engage young people who do not normally vote and substantially increase youth turnout at the general election (referred to by the rather irriating neologism “youthquake”). This was never based on particularly strong evidence. The narrative had begun to take hold during the campaign itself because of the difference between polls (a simple explanation of the polls during the 2017 campaign was that companies showing a large Tory lead were doing so because they weighting down younger respondents based on their past unlikelihood to vote and companies showing smaller Tory leads were basing turnout more on self-reporting and, therefore, often showing higher youth turnout). A common and not unreasonable assumption before the general election was, therefore, that if youth turnout did increase those polls showing a smaller Tory lead would be right, if youth turnout stayed low the Tories would win comfortably. Another common discussion during the campaign were the enthusiastic crowds of young people that were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn’s events. People sensibly cautioned that what mattered was whether those crowds actually suggested normally uninterested young people would vote, or just represented the more politically engaged young people.

By election day, there was a narrative that if all those enthusiastic young people actually came out to vote Labour would do well, and if it was just a mirage the Tories would win. Therefore when the Conservatives did do less well than most people expected the most easily available explanation to reach for was that young people had indeed been enthused to go out and vote Labour. In the immediate aftermath of the election an implausible claim that youth turnout was 72% was widely reported, without any apparent source. Shortly after that polling evidence from various companies emerged that did support a higher level of youth turnout. Given that the problem with polling accuracy in 2015 was that poll samples had too many of the sort of people who vote, particularly among young people, this evidence was rather dicey. It could have been that youth turnout had risen… or it could have been that polls still contained too many of the sort of young people who vote. The final bit of evidence was that seats that contained a larger proportion of young people did see their turnout rise more at the election… though as Chris Prosser and the rest of the BES team ably explain in their paper, this is not necessarily the strong evidence you might think: seats with more young people tend to be urban and more diverse, so it’s equally possible that urban areas in general saw a larger increase in turnout.

In fact the BES data released today – using a random sample and checked against the electoral register – does not find evidence of any increase in turnout among under 25s, thought does find some evidence of an increase in turnout among those between 25 and 44. The boost in youth turnout that people have been using to explain the 2017 election may not actually exist at all (or if it does, it was among relatively young voters, rather than the youngest voters). That’s not to say that young voters were not still important in explaining the election result – age was still an important divide on how people voted, young people did still heavily vote for Labour so it is still fair to say Labour managed to enthuse young people more, it’s just that the level of turnout among under 25s does not appear to have risen; Labour just took a greater share of support among younger voters.

This does raise some other questions about the polls at the 2017 election. Until now the most obvious explanation for why some polls got the figures very wrong and others got them right is that, by basing turnout patterns on what happened in 2015 some polls missed out on a genuine surge in youth turnout, therefore understating Labour support, and that polls showing higher youth turnout were closer to the actual result. However, if youth turnout didn’t actually rise then this explanation seems far less convincing. My own view is that the way turnout models were done was probably still a major factor in the error, but it may be more a case of how they were done rather than the principle (besides, there were some approaches, like the YouGov MRP model, that used demographics in their turnout modelling and did well). More on that issue another time.

In the meantime, there’s a summary of the BES findings on youth turnout here and their full paper is here.


562 Responses to “Some thoughts on the BES turnout data and the absent “youthquake””

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  1. delete “who cares today” above I forgot about the far-left threat for a second. This debate is actually something I fear we should very much care about come 2022 GE.

  2. @Trevor Warne – “You’re yet to provide any genuine evidence that voting Leave has been or will be “bad” other than jumping on any model that supports your view….”

    You do make me smile sometimes. You’re the one who started lecturing the rest of us about your models and what they show after all…Ayway – I’m sure your models are excellent.

    You do seem very keen to argue, whereas most of the rest of us are happy to discuss, and it’s usually a reasonable rule of thumb on this type of forum that those who end up demanding ‘evidence’ tend to be the ones whose own presentation of evidence can be a little lacking. Twas ever thus.

    This analysis – http://www.schroders.com/en/us/distributor/insights/economics/autumn-statement-brexit-forces-extra-government-borrowing/ suggested that the 2016 Autumn statement loosened borrowing by around £60bn over five years as a result of Brexit, and Annex B (I think) of the OBR report ht tp://cdn.obr.uk/Nov2016EFO.pdf shows their thinking on this. I’m no expert on this kind of stuff, although I understand you are, but this was the origin of my thinking, among other sources.

    It’s also of great significance to note that their central assumption is that we would be leaving in 2019, which is now no longer government policy. This extends the adjustment period and so in my view has delayed the most serious business disruption that was originally feared, and so has arguably helped to reduce the impact on GDP.

    “I know you now accept HMG would respond to different Brexit outcomes – sorry to push but I wanted you to confirm you now believe that is true in the future as well as the past. Do decimal places in 15yr projections still feel important??”

    Yes, that’s what I’ve said all along – is there any reason why you keep asking me about this?

    Indeed, what I’ve been trying to point out is precisely that. Our government responded to the leave vote in several different ways in order to mitigate the impacts (like not leaving in March 2019, for example). You seem to be denying that there have been any changes in government policy, and from this saying that therefore the models suggesting a major GDP hit from the vote were completely wrong. Once again, I can’t really see what your point is, because you are in effect arguing exactly what I’m saying. It confuses me, to be honest.

    You may also recall that when you were arguing that any Brexit drag was irrelevant becasue HMG could change it’s behaviour, I agreed with you that HMG could make changes, but also pointed out that everyone else could also make changes to take advantage of the UK being out of the EU. This is already happening (at the WTO on TRQ’s, for example) so if anything I was applying this idea of post Brexit adjustments in a slightly more coherent and less lopsided manner than you were. But you still keep asking?

    “You’re yet to provide any genuine evidence that voting Leave has been or will be “bad” other than jumping on any model that supports your view and grabbing some numbers that you then try to directly link to GDP. Even on these grabbed numbers I’m still waiting on evidence that they were directly due to Brexit and the decimal point direct causal effect on 2016-17 GDP.”

    Again, it’s difficult to know quite what to say here. I think most people would agree that the substantial devaluation did have a marked inflationary effect. which has now fed through in reduced consumer incomes, and we have also seen a direct investment drop following the vote. I did point out out that UK growth has dropped from the top of the G7 to the bottom, which is I think the first time since the 1990’s that we have been bottom of this particular league. Our growth is slowing, despite robust global growth and a devaluation, which would normally be expected to boost growth via exports. (It has, so presumably other effects have adversely affected growth).

    Now I’m afraid I can’t really point to any more ‘evidence’ other than what has happened, and while I can fully accept there are uncertainties in allocating any specific GDP effects to a one off event like a referendum result, I suspect most economic commentators would agree that Brexit is having a noticeable impact on UK growth.

    Beyond that, your comments on models and decimal points are pretty meaningless, but I’m happy to let you have the last word if that keeps you contented.

  3. Aren’t most people interested in/worried about/optimistic about-The Future rather than The Past?

    Just a thought-to relieve the tedium :-)

  4. Blimey Colin, one time period at a time please. My finger is worn out with scrolling down at dangerous speeds.

  5. @Carfrew –

    “….you’re changing to something else again…”

    “Take your time a bit Trev? I said the MID-EIGHTIES, not the fall of communism and globalisation of the nineties!!”

    Bit of a relief to find that it isn’t just me then!

  6. CROFTY

    Riveting stuff though-ain’t it !

    Polls still at all square in the latest YouGov / Times.-looks like voters in general have said bo**ocks to the lot of ’em ?

    Any thoughts before the next instalment of “My Analysis of the Oil Crises of the 1970s”……………..?

  7. New thread!!!!!

  8. @TREVOR WARNE

    “@ CARFREW – since your fixated on oil, what do you think about the North Sea oil timing and its impact on UK economy (sshhh, don’t mention this to Scottish readers!)

    Did that help to “usher” in the boom (that started) in the mid-80s?
    Oh and Mao died in 1976 to be followed by Deng who
    “argued that a socialist state could use the market economy without itself being capitalist”

    I’ve never said oil was not A factor in UK’s economic issues of the 1970s, I’ve said it was not THE ONLY factor and other factors such as trade union power and a highly unproductive UK manufacturing economy (e.g. Weds cars) were very important in why UK economy was hit so hard by something that we might have otherwise survived without needing to go to IMF.

    Franky, who cares today. Unlike the 1970s oil crisis we didn’t need the IMF after the financial crisis even though UK economy should have been one of the most highly exposed to that impact. UK economy is, today, highly flexible and resilient to deal with crisis – let’s hope it stays that way!

    ———-

    No, I’m not “fixated on oil”, you were blind to it. Oil clearly dominated economically in that era.

    North Sea Oil did not usher in a World Boom now did it. Rather than just facing up to the data, you’re casting around for ever more fanciful alternatives.

    The evidence is overwhelming. You just haven’t engaged with it. In numerous countries at the same time, economies were hit by the oil price spikes, and furthermore dependent on their vulnerability to oil. You cannot put this down to British policy. Nor can you put the World Boom down to British economic policy. And at the same time, the world economies benefited from the oil,price falling back.

    It was clearly not local economic policy. We were doing ok before the oil price hikes, couple of decades of advancement following the war, aside from Heath’s adventure with the banks. We recovered well after the first oil price hike, got back to growth, then the second hike hit. And it hit lots of countries.

    The fact the same factor affected numerous countries again and again, at the same time, in so,liar ways, makes a mockery of it being local policy.

    Who cares? Well we might say that about many things Trev, but it matters in polling terms how people attribute economic impacts. Because the liberal press has glossed over the role of oil, lots of people are unaware of what happened and this affects polling. Incidentally, having magic money is quite handy in avoiding the IMF!

  9. @TREVOR WARNE

    “@ CARFREW – since your fixated on oil, what do you think about the North Sea oil timing and its impact on UK economy (sshhh, don’t mention this to Scottish readers!)
    Did that help to “usher” in the boom (that started) in the mid-80s?

    Oh and Mao died in 1976 to be followed by Deng who
    “argued that a socialist state could use the market economy without itself being capitalist”

    I’ve never said oil was not A factor in UK’s economic issues of the 1970s, I’ve said it was not THE ONLY factor and other factors such as trade union power and a highly unproductive UK manufacturing economy (e.g. Weds cars) were very important in why UK economy was hit so hard by something that we might have otherwise survived without needing to go to IMF.

    Franky, who cares today. Unlike the 1970s oil crisis we didn’t need the IMF after the financial crisis even though UK economy should have been one of the most highly exposed to that impact. UK economy is, today, highly flexible and resilient to deal with crisis – let’s hope it stays that way!”

    ———-

    No, I’m not “fixated on oil”, you were blind to it. Oil clearly dominated economically in that era.

    North Sea Oil did not usher in a World Boom now did it. Rather than just facing up to the data, you’re casting around for ever more fanciful alternatives.

    The evidence is overwhelming. You just haven’t engaged with it. In numerous countries at the same time, economies were hit by the oil price spikes, and furthermore dependent on their vulnerability to oil. You cannot put this down to British policy. Nor can you put the World Boom down to British economic policy. And at the same time, the world economies benefited from the oil,price falling back.

    It was clearly not local economic policy. We were doing ok before the oil price hikes, couple of decades of advancement following the war, aside from Heath’s adventure with the banks. We recovered well after the first oil price hike, got back to growth, then the second hike hit. And it hit lots of countries.

    The fact the same factor affected numerous countries again and again, at the same time, in similar ways, makes a mockery of it being local policy.

    Who cares? Well we might say that about many things Trev, but it matters in polling terms how people attribute economic impacts. Because the liberal press has glossed over the role of oil, lots of people are unaware of what happened and this affects polling. Incidentally, having magic money is quite handy in avoiding the IMF!

  10. gosh, leave are gtting rattled.

  11. Re: calculation of GDP
    Year 1: all government services, valued at 100 groats, are delivered by direct workforce
    Year 2 : government decides to outsource all services to make economies. It spends 10 groats on its remaining administration and 85 groats with Caripita plc. Government product is 95 groats and private sector product is 85 groats. Same services are generated. Is the GDP now 180, and have we had growth of 80%?
    Year 3 : government is happy with the arrangement and continues its contract with Caripita. Caripita decides it would be better to subcontract most of it’s operations and contracts with Minnow ltd for this delivery for the sum of 60 groats. Is the GDP now 240, so that we have had growth of 33.3% in year 3 and 140% over two years?

    I don’t know the answer to this but it has troubled me for some years. UKPR may be the place I can get a credible answer. All ears.

  12. Guymonde,
    An interesting question unlikely to be debated. However..

    I can see the scope for some illusory growth. ie government passes money to Caripita, caripita passes it to same people who would have done the work anyway. Economy is counted as bigger because there was one additional step in the chain.

    But alternatively whereas government employed workers at 2 groats, now caripita employs the same people directly itself at 1 groat. 42.5 people were employed before, now 40 are (the whole idea is to make savings!), and at 1 groat. Caripita pockets the difference, 45 groats , which it sends to its parent company in France (or the Camen island accounts of its principle shareholders)

    So we have…government spending of 95 groats, Caripita spending of 40 groats making 135 whereas we began on 100. But this is only the first couple of stages of effect, money recirculates endlessly, or it does unless it leaves the country or collects under the mattress.

    The Caripita workforce now have half the spending power they did before, and assuming they spend all of it, they now only boost the economy by 40 groats. Local shop goes bust. The money in France provides nothing whatever for the Uk economy, The money in Camen islands does even less.

    Whereas before at this stage the GDP would have been 100 government+ 90 by workforce (lets say they saved 10)=190,

    It is now 95 groats government+9 spent by its retained workers, +40 by Caripita to its own workers, +40 by its workers =184.(and 45 stashed abroad, and the local shop closed so not employing someone)

    Government takes a cut on most transactions as tax. The 40 workers on 1 groat will pay less tax than the 42.5 on 2 groats. Caripita makes no profit, because its business is financed by massive loans from another company, upon which it spends most of its income and this interest is deductible from profit. The interest goes to the parent company in France/Caymen islands. (ie it ends up to the credit of someone but no Uk tax is paid)

    Whereas government reckoned to save 5 groats through this process, in fact tax revenues have fallen by 10 groats because of lower wages being paid and it is 5 groats out of pocket on the deal.

    Next stage…the money moves on again, but because there is less of it in the country less tax is paid once again and government accounts show more deterioration.

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