Voter Turnout in Portsmouth – A Tale of Two Cities?

In a city where political opinion can be so diverse – and yet so related to where you live (yes, Drayton & Farlington, you Tory heartland, we’re looking at you) – how does turnout affect the city’s political landscape? Is Portsmouth becoming more politically engaged or less? And to what extent does where you live influence the likelihood of you voting at all? Sarah Cheverton did some number-crunching to find out.

Portsmouth is on a 3-year election cycle, with 1 seat in each of the 14 wards being up for election for 3 out of every 4 years. The fourth year is a fallow year, in which no elections take place. So if we look back at the turnout in local elections in 2015, 2014 and 2012 (2013 was the fallow year), are there any trends?

We plotted turnout by wards on the graph below, for a quick at-a-glance-guide.

Turnout 2012_2015

What we can see at first glance is that contrary to popular belief – including our own preconceptions here at S&C, as it turns out – political engagement in the city has risen over the last three years.

This was most dramatically the case in 2015, because there was a General Election.

However, there was also a rise in the proportion of local people who turned out to vote between 2012 – the last time the seats up for election today were elected – and 2014. This rise is consistent across the city and ranges from an increase of just 3% in Charles Dickens ward to an increase of 8% in Central Southsea and Eastney & Craneswater.

Higher or lower – which ward are you in?

What if we look at the different wards? Where is turnout the highest and lowest in Portsmouth? And why?

Three wards are in the bottom 5 for electoral turnout across all three elections: Charles Dickens, Nelson and Paulsgrove.

If we look back at yesterday’s post on safe seats and swing seats, we can see that Charles Dickens and Nelson wards have also been two of the wards with the closest margin (5% or less) between the winning candidate and the second candidates in 2014 and 2015, making these two wards consistently swing seats.

By contrast, which are the wards where residents are most likely to turnout to vote?

Highest turnout across all three years goes to Drayton & Farlington, with Baffins and Eastney & Craneswater joining them in the top 5 across all 3 elections.

Again, if we look back at yesterdays’ feature on swing seats and safe seats, we can see that Eastney & Craneswater and Drayton & Farlington are also two of the wards with the greatest margin between the winning and second candidates, making them safe seats.

A Tale of Two Cities

So what, if anything, can we learn from this?

According to the City Council’s Tackling Poverty in Portsmouth Assessment, the most economically deprived – or poorest – wards in the city are Charles Dickens, Nelson and Fratton, so we can see a correlation between low turnout and poverty.

If we look more closely at the two areas with the lowest and highest turnout – Charles Dickens and Drayton and Farlington, respectively – we can see this correlation in more detail.

Tale of 2 cities - poverty

So, to put it simply, if you live in the city’s poorest wards, you’re less likely to vote and you’re more likely to be in a swing seat. By contrast, Drayton and Farlington, one of the city’s wealthiest wards enjoys a consistently higher voter turnout and has returned a Conservative councillor since 2012, making it a safe seat for the Tories.

The relationship between voting and wealth or poverty is consistent across the UK. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey:

  • fewer than 50 per cent of people who said they were really struggling on their income voted in the 2010 General Election. This compares with more than 80 per cent of people who claimed to be really comfortable living on their current income;
  • less than 40 per cent of people who claimed to be really struggling to live on current incomes thought that it is everyone’s duty to vote. Sixty per cent of people who claimed to be really comfortable living on their current income thought the same;
  • people who said they were struggling on their current incomes were more than twice as likely to take very little or no interest in politics compared to those who claimed to be really comfortable.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist’s imagination to see that if the wealthiest in society are most likely to vote, our politics will become dominated by the interests of the wealthy – for example by an ideological system that protects the wealthy at the expense of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. Yes, Conservative austerity, we’re talking to you.

If we extend that logic to Portsmouth, when our wealthy residents are more likely to be voting than those most affected by Tory policies, we can imagine that the work of the Council will begin to concentrate around the interests of the wealthy, at the expense of the poor, if it hasn’t already.

Today the whole city goes to the polls – or at least those who registered to vote will.

Will we see a higher level of turnout again this year across the city? Or will the antics and smears of local politics have taken their toll?

Will voters in the city’s most deprived areas stay at home, whilst those voters most likely to profit from the privatisation of public services turn out to vote the Tories back in?

Once again, Portsmouth, it’s over to you.

Image credit Star & Crescent.