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Lowest Turnout Since 1918 Forecast

by Anthony King


London, U.K. -- The proportion of people voting on June 7 will almost certainly be the lowest since the 1918 general election, according to Gallup's latest campaign survey for The Daily Telegraph.

It is also likely to be the lowest in normal peacetime circumstances since the time of Disraeli and Gladstone.

Any enthusiasm aroused by the election success of Tony Blair and New Labour four years ago has clearly evaporated. The Union flags that waved in the Downing Street sunshine as the new prime minister took over in May 1997 today hang limply.

Although Labour retains a commanding lead over the Tories in the Gallup survey, only 66 percent of eligible voters say they will "definitely" go to the polls this time. Gallup has never recorded a lower figure.

The proportion intending to vote is lowest by a wide margin among the young. Eighty percent of over-65s say they will definitely vote, while only 54 percent of the 18-35 age group say so. Among first-time voters the figure is even lower.

Gallup's forecasts of turnout have proved accurate in the past. Even if Gallup's estimate this time is out by two or three points, turnout would still be the lowest since Britain became a full-fledged democracy.

Turnout on the mainland in 1997 was 71 percent, the lowest since Stanley Baldwin and the Conservatives trounced Labour in 1935. A lower total, 59 percent, was recorded in 1918, but the circumstances were obviously peculiar. Gallup's findings may well be depressing for Labour. But they provide the Conservatives with only minimal cheer.

Among all eligible voters, Labour's lead over the Tories is 19 points. Among the 66 percent of voters reckoned by Gallup to be the most likely to turn out, Labour's lead is only marginally smaller: 16 points. There is little evidence that low turnout will damage Labour significantly more than the Tories.

Anthony King is professor of government at Essex University, and is a political analyst and a special contributor for The Daily Telegraph. This article is reprinted by the Gallup Poll News Service with permission from The Daily Telegraph.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with -- 1,446 -- respondents, aged 18+ from across Great Britain conducted May 14-15, 2001. Respondents who reported that they were not on the electoral register or definitely would not vote in the general election on June 7 have been excluded.

For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/-3 percentage points.

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