This Briefing Paper provides information on the eligibility to vote in UK Parliamentary elections for British citizens living overseas and the government's plans to end the 15-year rule - it's 'votes for life' policy.
Turnout at the 2019 General Election was 67.3% across the UK, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from 2017 (68.8%) but still the second-highest turnout since 1997.
This Insight looks at the parts of the UK where turnout was highest and lowest.
Breakdown across the UK
- Turnout in Scotland was the highest of any UK country (68.1%)
- As was the case in 2017, regional turnout in 2019 was highest in the two southernmost English regions: The South West (72.0%) and the South East (70.2%)
- Northern Ireland had the lowest turnout (61.8%)
East Dunbartonshire was the constituency with the highest turnout in the UK in 2019 (80.3%) in addition to being the most marginal constituency in Scotland. It also had the UK’s highest turnout in the 2015 Election (81.9%). On both occasions, Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats was the incumbent MP and lost to the SNP.
Four of the UK’s 650 constituencies have recorded turnouts of 75% or more at each of the four general elections contested on the current boundaries (2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019). These were East Dunbartonshire, Richmond Park, East Renfrewshire and Kenilworth and Southam. Apart from East Dunbartonshire in 2015 and 2019, the only other occasion in the last four general elections when a constituency’s turnout exceeded 80% was in East Renfrewshire in 2015 (81.1%).
The second highest turnout in the UK in 2019, and the highest in England, was in Richmond Park (76.2%) which the Lib Dems gained from the Conservatives.
Of the 30 highest constituency turnouts in 2019, eight were in the South East of England and six in the South West. 18 of the top 30 were won by the Conservatives.
Of the 30 lowest constituency turnouts, 21 were in seats held by Labour and 10 were in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. Three of the four lowest constituency turnouts were in Kingston upon Hull.
In total there were 287 constituencies (44% of the UK’s 650 constituencies) in which turnout was less than two-thirds of the electorate. This was an increase on the 211 constituencies (32%) where this was the case at the 2017 Election.
As shown in the map below, low-turnout constituencies in 2019 tended to be clustered in certain areas such as urban northern England, the West Midlands metro area, the Thames Estuary, the South Wales Valleys, the Scottish central belt and Northern Ireland.
Average turnout in the 11 seats won by the Liberal Democrats was 75.5%. Turnout in seats won by the Conservatives (69.2%) was 5.3 percentage points higher than in seats won by Labour (63.9%).
Marginality and turnout
In our Insight on marginality and turnout at the 2017 Election, we examined whether there was any relationship between the two. Such a relationship, could suggest that turning out to vote in a constituency might be influenced by voters’ perceptions of how safe the seat is. However, the results of the 2017 Election showed next to no relationship between seat safeness and turnout – and, as shown in the chart below, this remained the case at the 2019 Election.
The chart below shows the 2019 Election turnout in each constituency plotted against the marginality of the result in 2017 and 2019. Seats are spread diffusely across the chart with little-to-no discernible pattern linking marginality and turnout percentages.
Persistence of party affiliation in successive elections is also not much of a guide to relative turnout. 453 of the 650 constituencies (70%) have been won by the same party at each of the last four general elections. but However, the average 2019 turnout in these constituencies (67.1%) is only slightly lower than in the 197 seats that changed hands at least once in that period (67.9%).
Age and turnout
There does however appear to be an association between constituencies’ age profile and their electoral turnout. Turnout tends to be higher than average in constituencies with a larger proportion of older residents.
The chart below groups the UK’s constituencies into 10 deciles (65 constituencies in each), based on the proportion of the resident population of voting age people aged 65 or over. In the decile with the oldest age profile on this basis (average proportion aged 65 and over: 33%) turnout was 71.4%, 4.1 percentage points higher than the national average. The youngest decile (average proportion aged 65 and over: 12%) had the lowest turnout: 64.5% (2.8 percentage points lower than the national average).
This association does not necessarily show that an older population is a causal factor in higher turnout. Indeed, within each of these deciles there is a wide range of individual constituency turnouts. Among the ‘oldest’ 65 constituencies, individual constituency turnouts ranged between 61% and 78%, and among the ‘youngest’ 65 constituencies turnouts ranged between 53% and 77%.
There have been various attempts to use surveys to examine the relationship between turnout and age directly. Research published by the British Election Study Team in 2018 found that turnout by age in the 2015 and 2017 elections ranged from between 40% and 50% among the youngest voters to over 80% among the oldest. It also found there was little change between the elections despite initial suggestions of a 2017 ‘youthquake’.
Polling research from Ipsos MORI suggests that turnout in 2019 ranged from 47% among 18 to 24-year‑olds up to 74% among over-65s. This is a wider gap than in 2017, when the same pollsters measured turnout at 54% and 71% respectively in these age groups. However, Ipsos MORI caution that it uses pre-election survey data to derive these turnout estimates, which for several reasons it describes as one of the “hardest challenges” of analysing such data.
General Election 2019: The results, The House of Commons Library.
General Election 2019: Marginality, House of Commons Library.
This list notes the number of by-elections by session since 1945-46 and also lists the successful candidate in by-elections since 2005.
A briefing paper on the history, functions and membership of the Privy Council