Turnout for the books

The general election was not all it was cracked up to be by the media. In some cases it was just the opposite, with sloppy and erroneous assumptions and assertions dominating the coverage before, during and after. At the risk of filling a page with sour grapes or straw-clutching from a disappointed left-wing watcher (our only pleasures were whooping-out McDowell and relishing the rise of Richard Boyd-Barrett), let's take a last look back.


The commonest form perhaps of election legitimation/hype is the regular amnesiac claim that any given campaign is the most exciting and keenly fought in decades – this year the phrases featured regularly in what should be the calmer zone of RTÉ news headlines. The measure of this, we were constantly told, was that turnout was going to go through the roof. Polling day itself was full of breathless tales of extraordinary numbers.

Then suddenly the turnout story went quiet, without apology for the prior nonsense, needless to say. Yes, turnout was up – by less than 5 per cent, to about two-thirds of the electorate. And even those figures should have come with flashing-red caveats: the electoral register had been pared since 2002, with about a quarter-million wrong or redundant names removed, supposedly. (The total number on it had risen, of course, with the population boom.)

It would be fair to assume that a more accurate register gives you a built-in increase in percentage turnout without any actual change in the voting/non-voting behaviour of those eligible. This could even account for the whole difference between 2002 and 2007 – certainly it renders any direct comparison with previous turnouts rather problematic. Abstentionists have no reason for despair about any collapse in their numbers – but don't expect any “Voters as bored as ever” headlines.