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Who will turn up and who will stay at home? Examining turnout expectations for different groups of people

Author: Jan Eichhorn (University of Edinburgh)

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Summary

This briefing discusses  findings from the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) and assesses the prospects for turnout in the Scottish referendum on independence.

It examines in particular who is and who is not more likely to vote. It discusses whether those on one side of the argument are more likely to vote than those on the other side. It assesses whether certain groups of the population are more inclined to vote than others, and thus whether there are some groups where a particular effort is needed to promote participation. Finally, in order to see whether or not the referendum is likely to be more successful than other ballots at securing the participation of politically ‘hard to reach’ groups, we compare the characteristics of those who say they are likely to vote in the referendum with the pattern of turnout in the (low turnout) 2011 Holyrood election.

Introduction

A high turnout is often claimed to be crucial if an election or referendum is to confer legitimacy on the winner. The rather low turnout in many recent elections (such as 50% in the 2011 election for the Scottish Parliament) is often described as a cause for concern. Arguably a low turnout in the independence referendum would be particularly problematic, as the decision would not be reversible in a few years’ time. How many people are likely to vote and how representative they are of Scottish public opinion as a whole is thus one of the key questions to be asked of the ballot on 18 September.