This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Friday, 7 May 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

This has been, without question, one of the most intriguing and unpredictable of elections in living memory. For political scientists and media commentators alike, it generated huge anticipation and a real sense of excitement about the outcome.

Blog sites like this one have attracted much attention, particularly from journalists looking for insight and new angles.

The television debates also injected a sense of dynamism and freshness to the well-worn routine of election campaigning, which used to be dominated by morning press conferences, poster launches, and carefully stage managed events.

However, for all the excitement amongst the commentariat, academics and other assorted anoraks, it appears that the wider public has not been so engaged. When I talked recently to BBC East Midlands chief political correspondent, John Hess, we both noted the lack of posters in windows and the absence of car-stickers compared to what was once commonplace in previous elections.

Highly impressionistic, of course, but there did seem to be a mismatch between the way the election was generating interest amongst analysts and the lack of visible evidence of much popular engagement. This was probably reflected in the very high number of 'don't knows', ‘not quite sures’ and ‘might change my minds’ right up to the eve of voting.

Vindicating that lack of connection between people and politics, turnout looks like it will be about 65 per cent. This is better than the 61.4 per cent in 2005 and the even poorer 59.4 in 2001.  But those were elections where the outcome was never really in doubt. 

This time round, we expected that electoral uncertainty – combined with the interest generated by the TV debates - would lead to a much higher figure.  In some places, turnout did exceed 70 per cent – people were turned away from the polls in the end - but the overall figure looks much worse than in every other election since 1945, none of which saw turn-out drop below 71.4 per cent. 

The campaign, then, has not reversed the deep-set popular disillusionment with the political class, one made only worse by the 2009 expenses scandal.  Only time will tell what effect the parties ongoing attempts to resolve the present Parliamentary stand-off will have on this continued sense of disenchantment with those who exercise power in our name.

Professor Paul Heywood

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