As the UK saw a spike in turnout at the 2017 ballot boxes, how do we compare to global levels?

The UK saw a spike in voter turnout at the 2017 general election – a nod to the work of groups like Bite the Ballot, TalkPolitics and ShoutOutUK in encouraging participation – and also to the ability of Jeremy Corbyn to enthuse the youth vote. But how does the UK compare in ballot box appearances worldwide?


In terms of voter registration, Australia tops the pile. Whilst this is evidently down to their strict compulsory voting rules – failure to turn up to the ballot box incurs a fine – it still means they have a more representative democracy. In 2016, 91% of registered voters cast their vote, compared to 68.7% in the UK.


In their latest election, in 2014, Belgian voters turned up en masse. 87.2% of the voting age population cast a vote. Similarly to Australia, Belgium has strict voting laws – rather than fining those who decline to turn up, Belgian law has a process for actually disenfranchising voters that don’t cast a vote on numerous occasions. Arguably, these two do go against the cultural grain of states like the UK and the US – where choosing not to exercise your vote is seen as a democratic right. 


Whilst the global voting trend has been in decline for the past few years, the Scandinavian countries have held firm. In Sweden, boosting voter participation lasts the full electoral cycle – rather than in the UK where we witness mass rushes in the few months leading up to a referendum or election. Some public libraries hire ‘Democracy Navigators’ and implement ‘Democracy Centres’ in order to improve participation and accessibility. In 2014, Sweden saw a turnout of age-eligible population of 82.6% – big.

Jeremy Corbyn is accredited with having a huge impact on the youth vote in the UK 2017 election


Denmark trails just behind its Nordic partner in terms of political engagement. Denmark could potentially owe its 80.3% turnout to its Opt-Out Electoral Register and concept of automatic voter registration – taking down barriers to access the booth.


78% in 2014, Norway – like other Nordic states – has remained relatively stable in a period of decline. The numbers for those registered and those who actually turn out are remarkably close – only 0.3% register to vote and then neglect to turn up.


The recent 2017 election in the Netherlands saw a minority government returned, and the highest voter turnout in thirty years. Some news sites put this down to the weather – encouraging people to get up and vote – but such factors seem menial when compared to the fact that the election was expected to be far closer than it was.

Last but not least, 76.8% of eligible Icelandics hit the ballot boxes in their latest, 2016, election. Could this be to do with the size (or lack thereof) of Iceland and the local nature of their politics?

Indeed, one large factor when it comes to turnout is voter fatigue – Switzerland, which has multiple referendums per year, comes bottom of the participation leaderboard. With campaigns popping up here, there and everywhere in the UK dedicated to challenging political apathy, will we see a continued rise? It’s up in the air.