Penny for your vote?

15 Aug 2013

Elections in Britain have become the ultimate postcode lottery. Our new report, Penny for your Vote?, shows that the amount of money which parties spend on attracting your vote depends almost entirely on where you live. At the starkest extremes, voters in Bootle are valued 22 times less than those in Luton South. In other words, all votes are not created equal after all.

If you live in a marginal seat, then parties will spend money trying to attract your vote. But if you live in a safe seat – as so many people do – then you will be all but ignored. Our report shows that in the 50 most marginal seats, average spending per vote was 162% higher than in the 50 safest seats, demonstrating that the main driver of inequality in spending is an electoral system that makes much of the country a no-go area even for the biggest parties.

This inequality has a direct impact on voter turnout and general political engagement. Our report shows that where parties tighten their belts, people will be much less likely to vote. The parties’ indifference to safe seats is turning people away from politics. By targeting marginal seats, parties are contributing to the problem of voter disengagement, and they are making it harder for themselves to reverse declines in party membership. As voter disengagement becomes a more and more pressing problem, so does the inequality of party spending, and so does the voting system which incentivises parties to target their resources so ruthlessly.

There are two central problems which explain this state of affairs. One is the dire state of the parties’ finances, and the other is our lop-sided electoral system. Parties have scant resources and naturally want to target their spending where it will make the most difference. And our outdated voting system means that the most logical way of spending money is to target a few marginal seats. And this leaves millions of voters in the lurch.

If we are going to redress the imbalance, both party funding and our electoral system need to be reformed. We need properly and sustainably funded political parties incentivised to campaign across the country, not just in a few fiercely contested seats. We need a party funding system that recognises the crucial role that parties play in mobilising voters. And we need an electoral system that values each voter equally no matter where they live.

Read the full report here


And why not find out how much your own vote is worth?


3 Responses to Penny for your vote?

Electoral Reform Society's picture
Electoral Refor... 16 Aug 2013

Sadly a 20p spend in most constituencies doesn’t usually come anywhere near £12,000, and that's taking in all candidates and not just any one party. We calculated the figures per vote rather than per citizen, and – as we found in our report – one of
the consequences of parties not spending any resources on seeking votes is that it increases the likelihood that people don’t turn out to vote at all. So in some of the safest seats where the least money was spent, turnout was so low that the amount spent wasn't very much at all.

We agree that we should find a sustainable way of funding our politics, but we don’t think that should mean parties all but ignore great swathes of the
country. A fairer electoral system would mean parties would be incentivised to campaign more broadly across the country, spreading their resources and not leaving voters behind.

Ian Chisnall 16 Aug 2013

I have now seen the research document and so can see your workings. My own calculations as you suggest are not consistent with yours. However I would still argue that the fundamental flaw is to assume that it is party investment that drives interest from the electorate, if the party investment reflects the constituency demographic, it is inevitable that there will be a chicken or egg scenario. The other concern I have is that you assume that what is needed is a campaign which is evenly spread across the country. That presumes that the future depends on national parties when a great deal of evidence points to something much more complex. It also reflects a failure to consider the impact of social media.

Ian Chisnall 16 Aug 2013

Surely this is the right story but being examined from the wrong perspective. It is disturbing that its author as a candidate for one of the major political parties (in my constituency) begins with a view that budget equates to political interest. We need to find a sustainable way of funding election campaigns so that well funded political parties do not dominate the discourse. In a constituency of 60,000 people a 20p spend equates to £12,000. That should be seen as a spending maximum, not something to be dismissed as showing a lack of interest. Come on ERS! you can do better than this.