The Bristol Cable

Data visualisation: Lucas Batt

Don’t you know people died for the right to vote?

It’s a common refrain in response to uncertainty or lack of interest in elections. Yet, despite the apparent civic duty to take advantage of this right, many do not. Is it apathy? Is it simmering discontent with a process that fails to deliver? Is it the failure of the individual? Or the failure of politics in general, and politicians in particular to inspire enfranchisement?

In 2012 only 27% of Bristolians took up the opportunity to vote in the Mayoral elections. With average turnout less than half of general election levels, this dismal figure was made even starker by the disparity across the city, ranging from 11% to 42%.

Exclusive Cable analysis puts into question the reasons behind the poor turnout. Using current measures of deprivation and electoral turnout for the 2012 Mayoral race, our analysis shows that
there is a strong relationship between levels of deprivation and voter participation in the city’s wards. Although some wards buck the trend (see graph), the figures show that the five least deprived wards in the city record the highest turnout, and four of the five most deprived wards have extremely low levels of voting. This analysis casts doubt on individual based explanations for voter disengagement, and may place responsibility firmly at the door of social and economic policy and the electoral system.

Add to that the general discontent towards politicians, broken promises, scandals and a backward voting system that disincentivises being a solid and campaigning politician in “safe seats”, and the result is a cycle where those who need genuine representation the most are participating the least, whilst well heeled citizens continue to capture the mainstream political agenda.

This time around we can expect higher turnouts. But as more of Bristol slides into deprivation, is the sacred “right to vote” being made a farce of by the failure of politics to inspire and actually enfranchise people to even consider voting?

Whitchurch Park & Hartcliffe

2015 Bristol Deprivation rank: 3 & 4 / 35
2012 Mayoral election turnout: 14.42% / 11.21%

Whitchurch Park and Hartcliffe contain the four most deprived small neighbourhoods in the city, all within the top 1% of the most deprived places in England. Of the half a dozen people we spoke to, no one could remember having seen any political campaigners.


Alan and Ted, both retired. Neither voted in 2012 and neither currently intend to vote in 2016.

Alan: “I didn’t vote, and I shan’t be. I don’t really understand what it’s all about, so it’s a waste of time. Perhaps they could explain what it’s all about, and what it’s likely to be used for.”

Ted: “I don’t believe in it, it’s getting us nowhere, I don’t understand it. I’ve never seen anybody canvassing. We’re kept in the dark.”


2015 Bristol Deprivation rank: 35/35
2012 Mayoral election turnout: 42.64%

The least deprived ward in the city recorded the highest turnout in 2012. Within minutes of arriving in Henleaze we came across both the Lord Mayor, Councillor for Henleaze Clare Campion-Smith canvassing for the Lib Dems, and a family campaigning for a Conservative council candidate.


Phil Radford and canvassers for Liz Radford, Conservative council candidate for Henleaze. Both adults pictured voted in the 2012 election and intend to vote this time.

“I think if you’ve had a really good local councillor, who you know, and lives in the area, and they do stuff to help you and your family, then I think people vote…I’m a great believer that if a party is failing you, you shouldn’t vote for them. Our democracy is based on change. At the moment I think the Conservatives have really really helped our community, and are incredibly hard working.”

Lawrence Hill

2015 Bristol Deprivation rank: 1/35
2012 Mayoral election turnout: 21.63%

Firmly bucking the trend, is Lawrence Hill, the most deprived ward in the city but recording a relatively high turnout. What will we see this time?


Melinda, home care aid worker. Melinda voted in 2012, but doesn’t plan to in 2016.

“I’m not really that bothered, because it isn’t gonna change anything…I was disappointed last time so can’t be bothered this time. Majority of people I know have the same outlook that I do…Unless it’s something to do with the Green party I have no interest in them whatsoever.”


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  • A Graves says:

    The real reason did not vote, was number 1, they did no know what what the the PCC did, and 2, no knew what real power the Mayor had.
    Now we the people know, myself will think that there will be a big turn out, the mayor has brought Bristol to a stand still.
    The Mayor has not heard the people voice, about any thing even is own councilors. ,

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