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Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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5 Low voter turnout

Voter turnout is often viewed as an indicator of the health of a democracy. The lower the numbers of people making the effort to vote, the less interested they are in the activities of the politicians they elected.

Turnout has been declining across the UK since its highest levels of around 80% in the 1950s. Turnout in an election to the Welsh Parliament has never exceeded 50%.

Writing in the British Journal of Political Science in 2004, Roger Scully, Richard Wyn Jones and Dafydd Trystan identified three possible reasons for this: antipathy to the Welsh institutions, apathy to the Welsh institutions or apathy to politics more generally. They suggest apathy – in Wales and to politics more generally – are the most likely reasons. This is borne out in the table below which suggests votes where the stakes feel very high, such as the Brexit referendum, have the highest levels of turnout.

Table 1 Percentage turnout in Wales at all national polls since 1997
YearElectionTurnout in Wales (%)
1997Devolution referendum50.22
1999National Assembly for Wales 46.3
1999European Parliament29
2001General Election61.6
2003National Assembly for Wales 38.2
2004European Parliament41.4
2005General Election62.4
2007National Assembly for Wales 43.7
2009European Parliament30.4
2010General Election64.9
2011Devolution referendum35.6
2011National Assembly for Wales42.2
2014European Parliament31.5
2015General Election65.6
2016National Assembly for Wales45.3
2016EU referendum71.7
2017General Election68.6
2019European Parliament37.1
2019General Election66.6
2021Senedd Cymru46.6
This graph shows the statistics from Table 1 boiled down to show average turnout by poll type: General Elections have the highest average turnout (64.95%). This is followed by National Assembly for Wales (43.71%), and then European Parliament (33.88%).
Figure 1 Average turnout by poll type