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Who’s Tim Bowles anyway? Metro mayor voter turnout disparities


Turn out for the metro mayor elections varied from 46.6% in Bishopston, to just 15% in Hartcliffe and Withywood.

Data analysis and visualisation: Lucas Batt
Words: Lorna Stephenson

“The election of these ‘metro mayors’ is a chance to strengthen voters’ relationship with government,” went a Financial Times op-ed in April, just prior to the elections taking place. It looks like someone forgot to tell Hartcliffe.

The overall turnout for the metro mayor of the West of England, which incorporates Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, was 29%. But breaking down the turnout by ward reveals dramatic disparities in Bristol.

According to our estimates using official verification data, while over 36% of people were enthused enough to get themselves to the polling stations in the likes of Bishopston and Ashley Down and Redland, at the bottom of the turnout table was Hartcliffe and Withywood with a democracy-defying low of 7%. Counting in estimated postal vote figures, total turnout was about 46.6% for Bishopston and Ashley Down and 15% in Hartcliffe and Withywood (you can read the methodology below).

Many things could account for the poor show: Voter fatigue after a run of elections and referendums, and with the snap general election just around the corner? Failed communication about what metro mayors would actually do? Mayor overload in the face of a city mayor, a lord mayor and now a regional mayor too?

Lack of a ‘regional’ identity is also probably a factor. The questions of major regional economic developments, investment and infrastructure – which form the basis of the newly created mayorships – have never felt particularly accountable to the public. It may take time for these issues to begin to feel subject to democratic accountability.

In the Morrisons car park that serves as a Hartcliffe centrepoint, striking up conversations about the metro mayor elections was met with apathy in most cases. “Why should we bother voting if nothing changes?” asked the man of a middle aged couple out shopping.

“There’s too many of them,” one woman commented, reflected the view that rather than an exercise in democracy, the whole show seemed angled at introducing yet more bureaucracy.

“I’m surprised anyone bothered [voting] to be honest,” said a thirty-ish man named Simon, who was out running errands with his dog. “In the mayoral elections and the normal elections, they’re doing too much for buses and transport and stuff like that and not enough for poor families that actually need it. There’re people in council homes that are on the lowest of all benefits and they’re struggling to make it.”

“Until a politician says, ‘OK, we’re going to sort the housing out’ or the local stuff, like homeless on the city streets, then I’m not going to bother voting,” he said.

Tim Bowles, new West of England metro mayor, will have to work hard to convince the people that he’s relevant and to create a meaningful and relate-able position for himself as a politician, before the next elections roll around.

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