The poorer you are, the less likely you are to vote

17th Apr 2015

With days until voter registration closes and less than three weeks until the polls open, Alvin Carpio looks at the link between poverty and voting at the 2010 General Election – and voting intentions for the 2015 General Election.

There are thirteen million people in poverty in the UK. With the General Election in full swing, the television debates, party campaigning, and drives to register voters under way, what does the evidence say about the likelihood of people in poverty to vote?

Our analysis of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, carried out for this blog, shows:

  • fewer than 50 per cent of people who said they were really struggling on their income voted in the 2010 General Election. This compares with more than 80 per cent of people who claimed to be really comfortable living on their current income;
  • less than 40 per cent of people who claimed to be really struggling to live on current incomes thought that it is everyone’s duty to vote. Sixty per cent of people who claimed to be really comfortable living on their current income thought the same;
  • people who said they were struggling on their current incomes were more than twice as likely to take very little or no interest in politics compared to those who claimed to be really comfortable.

The trends in the graphs are strikingly clear:

The graphs show that a correlation between poverty and voting: the poorer you are, the less likely you are to vote. Furthermore, the poorer you are, the less likely you are to be interested in politics and less likely to think that politics is important.

There are a few caveats to these findings: the BSA data is based on people’s opinions. A person who claims to be ‘really struggling’ to live on their current income might not necessarily the same as a person in poverty. That person might have a decent wage, but high expenditure. At the same time, a person who claims to be ‘really comfortable’ might be in in-work poverty but managing to get by. Nonetheless, a person’s perception of their own circumstance can be used as an indicator of subjective poverty.

Furthermore, the BSA survey indicated that in total around 65 per cent of people claimed to vote in 2010 which compares to the official figure of 65.1 per cent showing the strength of the data. When it comes to the intention to vote in the next General Election, our analysis of British Election Study (BES) data shows that a person’s likelihood to vote generally decreases the lower their personal income:

While the BSA data is based on people’s perceptions, the BES data is based on people’s stated personal income. A person’s claim to be struggling to live on their current income as well as a person’s gross annual income both define a person’s likelihood to vote.

The findings of this analysis bring up major questions for the UK: Why are poor people less likely to vote; what are the barriers to voting for people in poverty, and; what can be done to address these barriers? Without understanding the context behind these figures, then it will be difficult to move to a more inclusive public debate about the issues affecting the lives of those on the lowest incomes.