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17 September, 2003

Low turnout predicted for 2004 elections

Members of the public are sceptical about the impact of voting, dissatisfied with politicians and confused about political institutions, according to a new report from the Electoral Commission.

The report's research, written for the Electoral Commission by MORI and the University of Plymouth, found that the electorate is not convinced of any benefit in voting, or any danger in not voting. Most people under 60, it says, 'see voting as a transaction, and expect something tangible in return'. Although personalities and 'high-minded appeals to civic duty' are turning people away from this form of political engagement, the issues themselves are as important as ever. 'People still care about issues like taxes, policing and healthcare as much as before,' said Sam Younger, Chairman of The Electoral Commission, 'but turnout at elections has been falling for all the reasons highlighted in this research.' The report, Public opinion and the 2004 elections, explores public attitudes towards next year's elections for the European Parliament and London's Mayor and Assembly. As well as revealing widespread public scepticism and disenchantment, the report also highlights the public's dissatisfaction with politicians whom they regard as visible only at election time. This criticism is particularly pronounced for London Assembly members and MEPs. Historically Britons have been the least likely of all the EU member states to vote in European elections, and only one in three people turned out to vote in London's 2000 Mayoral and Assembly elections. Citizenship education clearly has a role to play, argues Tony Breslin, Chief Executive of the Citizenship Foundation. 'Although not the whole story, it has an important role to play in encouraging people of all ages to engage with political ideas and processes,' he said. 'Good citizenship education can help clear up the confusion about 'political institutions' cited in this research. It can also provide opportunities to meet politicians and discover they are real people too.' The Commission will be working in partnership with national and local bodies, including estate agents, driving schools and high street retailers to coordinate their voter awareness campaigns in London and across the UK. The Electoral Commission is an independent body established by Parliament. It aims to ensure public confidence and participation in the democratic process within the United Kingdom through modernisation of the electoral process, promotion of public awareness of electoral matters, and regulation of political parties. Share

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