7 lowest general election turnout rates since 1945

The seven lowest general election turnout rates since the end of World War Two. Which elections make the list?

7th – 1970

The 1970 election was one of many fought between the Conservatives’ Edward Heath and Labour’s Harold Wilson. The Conservatives won the election with a small thirty-seat majority, which led to Heath’s first and only period as prime minster. The turnout rate stood at 72%, the seventh worst since 1945.

6th – 1997

In this year, Tony Blair was swept to power with a landslide, however, turnout was just 71.4% - down by over six percentage points in just five years. While this election is significant for New Labour’s striking victory, it is also important because it is the most recent election where the turnout rate was above 70%.

5th – 2017

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at an eventBritain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at an event

The most recent election was many things, but it also had the 5th worst turnout rate in UK general elections since 1945 of just 68.7%. However, it is important to note that it had the highest turnout rate since 1997, which shows that UK democracy is moving in the right direction.

4th – 2015

Two years ago, David Cameron won a surprise overall majority for this party. Turnout at the election was up from turnout in 2010, standing at 66.1%.

3rd – 2010

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron with his mother Mary Cameron in the royal boxBritain's Prime Minister David Cameron with his mother Mary Cameron in the royal box

Five years before that, in 2010, Labour lost its majority and the UK faced a hung parliament, which resulted in the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Turnout at the election was 65.1%.

2nd – 2005

In terms of low turnout rates, the second-place prize goes to the 2005 election, in which Tony Blair secured a third term as prime minister. The dismal turnout rate was 61.4%.

1st - 2001

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.

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 William Hague's Conservatives. The election was dubbed the “quiet election” for the limited changes in seats, according to the BBC. Turnout at the election was a depressing low 59.4%, most likely due to the strong probability that Labour was always going to win and that the Conservative made very little impact. The low figure is significant on its own for being the lowest turnout rate since 1945, but also for the fact that the rate dropped a whole twelve percentage points within just four years.

Turnout figures are based off the Wikipedia page for UK general elections, which can be found here.

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