Who decides the result of the next General Election?
Unless something changes, it’s largely going to be older and better-off people.
Because those are the people who are most likely to vote.
And it’s a problem that MPs themselves have warned could lead to a crisis in our system of government.
But the problem doesn’t begin on election day, which will be May 7 this year.
It starts earlier than that, when people register to vote – or fail to do so.
An estimated 7.5 million people who are entitled to vote at an election in this country are not correctly registered.
This means they are registered wrongly, for example because they have moved house and haven’t updated their details, or simply haven’t registered at all.
Politicians have to listen to people who vote. But one way or another, they are also aware of who votes and who stays at home.
As a result, some sections society risk having less influence than others over decisions made by the Government.
Studies also show that young people are less likely to be registered to vote at elections than older people.
A study in 2011 found that only 55% of people aged 17 to 18, and only 56% of people aged 19 to 24, were registered to vote.
By contrast, 82.3% of the eligible population as a whole was registered – and 94% of people aged over 65.
It means older people have more influence over who wins the election.
People on lower incomes are also less likely to be registered.
A report by the Electoral Commission, an official watchdog, last year found that 79.6% of people in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, or people dependent on benefits, were registered to vote – compared to 87% of professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, or senior managers.
The Electoral Commission also found that some black and ethnic minority groups are significantly less likely to be registered to vote compared to those identifying as white British.
It all means that some people’s views matter more than others in our system of government. And politicians know there’s a problem.
A report by a committee of MPs, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, last year warned:
“Low levels of registration and turnout among students and young people are serious problem now and could get worse.
“If a generation of young people choose not to vote, and then continue not to participate at elections as they grow older, there will be severe and long-lasting effects for turnout at UK elections, with consequent implications for the health of democracy in the UK.”
But if it’s a problem for MPs, it’s a bigger problem for people who go unrepresented in Parliament.
Politics and the work of government affects all our lives. And this election could decide some big issues – how we improve the NHS, how we ensure future generations don’t inherit massive debts, how we provide jobs and training for young people and much more.
Comedian Russell Brand caused a stir when he suggested last year that people shouldn’t vote. But the problem with that idea is that if you don’t vote then people still get elected. It just means they are chosen by somebody else.
This election is set to be the most unpredictable in decades. Nobody knows who is going to win.
And there are more credible parties to choose from than before – with the Greens and UKIP running major campaigns, alongside the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Other local candidates could also have an impact in some seats.
The good news is that it’s now easier than ever before to register to vote.
People can register online for the first time, at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote . It only takes five minutes and it helps to ensure that your voice is heard.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Feb 2015