Theresa May has said that this General Election is “the most important election for this country” in her lifetime. A familiar phrase come General Election time. It was only two years ago that David Cameron was launching the 2015 Conservative campaign calling the election “the most important election for a generation”. Over the past three years the UK has seen three historic elections or referenda, with an independence referendum in Scotland, the General Election in 2015, and the EU referendum last year.
Therefore, who could blame Brenda from Bristol who, upon hearing that the country was being asked to go to the polls again, exclaimed “You’re joking? Not another one. Oh for God’s sake, I can’t stand this.” While General Elections, referendums, and campaigns get political geeks like me up in the morning, there is a danger that election weariness could very well rear its head at this election.
Firstly, all the polls seem to indicate that Theresa May has the win, and a hefty one at that in the bag. While the UK polling industry has taken a bashing recently, you are hard pressed to find anybody that believes Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister in a few weeks. Therefore, how successful will Theresa May’s warning of “a coalition of chaos” be? As she tours the country warning of what she believes are the dangerous implications of a Labour, SNP, and Lib Dem coalition, is there anybody that believes that this is a realistic scenario given the polls, and if not how does such a message enthuse masses of people to get to the polls to prevent it? The Conservative messaging in 2015 of Ed Miliband being in Alex Salmond’s pocket gained cut through, precisely because the polls deemed the race for Number 10 ‘too close to call’. However given the commanding lead currently enjoyed by the Conservatives, this tactic most likely won’t have the same effect this time round.
Furthermore, while Theresa May might have some difficulty in ensuring the Conservative vote gets out, Jeremy Corbyn has the trouble of trying to persuade Labour voters to actually vote for him. A recent ComRes poll of Labour voters found that only 45 per cent of the party’s supporters back their leader in a two-way contest between him and Theresa May. With so many Labour supporters unenthused by their leader, motivating them to get out and vote may also be a tough ask.
The EU referendum and Scottish Independence saw large turnouts of 72% and 85% respectively, but there was strong emotional sentiment on both sides of the argument in those campaigns, with many voters having waited years to have the opportunity to vote on those issues. Given that General Elections come around at least every five years, they often lack this sense of urgency. This is likely to be exacerbated this time as it was only two years ago that people voted for a majority Conservative government.
Furthermore, given the centrality of the Brexit issue, it often feels like the EU referendum campaign is continually being re-fought, as it dominates daily news bulletins and newspapers. Are people becoming bored of Brexit and their newsfeeds being dominated by politics? For some it might also feel like the prospect of such campaigns and elections never end. People in Scotland were told in 2014 that the independence referendum was a ‘once in a generation opportunity’. However, it seems like another independence referendum is inevitable in the coming years.
Given the polls, the messaging currently being delivered, the number of times the country has gone to the polls over the past few years, and may have too again in the very near future, is there a danger of turnout falling near to the record low levels of 2001, when just 59% turned out? Don’t be surprised if it does. Then, like now, there was seen to be little doubt about the outcome of the contest, as Tony Blair’s Labour enjoyed consistent leads of 10-20% over William Hague’s Tories. The fact many will also be voting in local elections in England, Scotland, and Wales on Thursday is unlikely to help the situation. We may just get a valuable insight on the 8 June on just how many more “most important elections in our lifetime” the UK can take.
Main image from http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm