9 highest general election turnouts since the war

John Major

None of the last six elections make this list. Is it time to address the country’s voter turnout problem?


 9. Election 1987

The turnout rate for the 1987 election was 75.3% - almost seven points higher than turnout in the election thirty years later (68.7% in 2017). At this election, Margaret Thatcher secured her third election victory in a row, but was ultimately later replaced by John Major.

8. Election 1979

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher won her first victory of three. At the election, the turnout rate was 76%.

Maggie In Hard Hat

7. Election 1955

Under Churchill, the Conservatives won back the House in 1951. The War-time leader was soon replaced by Anthony Eden who led his Conservative party to victory in 1955 on a 76.8% turnout rate.

6. Election 1964

After years of Tory-rule, Harold Wilson led Labour to victory in 1964. His party won a slim majority on a turnout rate of 77.1%.

5. Election 1992

The fact that this election was seen as likely to be close may have contributed to it having the highest turnout rate since 1959. In the end however, John Major won a decisive victory over Neil Kinnock’s Labour on a turnout rate of 77.7%.

4. Election 1959

Anthony Eden, who had won the Conservatives another majority four years previously, left the top job before the 1959 election as Churchill had done before him. He was replaced by Harold Macmillan who increased the party’s majority on a 78.7% turnout – exactly ten percentage points higher than the turnout in the most recent general election.

House of Commons Chamber: Speaker's table

3. Election 1974 (February)

The first election of 1974 makes this list while the second does not, suggesting that voters may have had enough of voting that year. In the February election, Harold Wilson became prime minister once more on an impressive turnout rate of 78.8%.

2. Election 1951

In this election, Winston Churchill returned to power, ending six years of Labour-rule on a turnout rate of 82.6%.

1. Election 1950

Churchill’s victory may have gotten the second-top spot, but it was the election before that, which had the highest turnout rate since 1945. Labour won a massive majority five years previously, but the 1950 election significantly reduced it to just five seats on a very impressive turnout rate of 83.9%. Attlee’s second government hobbled along, until 1951 when it called another vote with the aim of improving its majority. They ultimately lost out to Churchill’s Conservatives, but they did win the most votes.

Future turnouts

This list is striking for one interesting reason. The majority of elections with high turnouts took place over fifty years ago. Recent turnouts fail to match the turnouts the country used to have. Admittedly, things are improving – 2017 election’s turnout rate was the highest since 1997, the EU referendum had an exceptionally high turnout rate, and for Scotland’s 2014 referendum, 85% voted – but there is still a long way to go to improve political engagement in the country.


All general election turnouts are based off figures from Wikpedia's page of UK general elections, which can be accessed here.