Over the last ten years there has been a steady rise in the number of voters casting their ballot by post. It was in 2001 that the law was changed introducing the right to vote by post on demand rather than, as previously, where the voter had to have a specific reason not to be able to vote in person hospitalised, certain occupations, etc.).
In the recent London election almost one in four of those who voted did so by post. Not that one in four have a postal vote, that number is closer to 13%, but they are far more likely to vote. Whether that is because having the ballot pop through your letter box is more convenient or because these are a self selected group of people who asked to vote by post and are therefore much more likely to be interested in voting, it’s difficult to tell although it may well be a combination of the two. Either way postal voters are marking themselves out as prime targeting material for political parties.
In low turn out elections postal voters are around twice as likely to vote as their pop it in the box on the day counterparts, and the majority of them will vote within a few days of receiving their ballot meaning election day now stretches over a two week period.
Looking at the break down for London’s postal votes we can see a few interesting things.
First of all Livingstone polled significantly worse among postal voters than among the general population of each borough. In fact in only one borough of 33, Bexley, were Livingstone’s votes better by post than across in the borough. This may speak to a slick operation on the part of Bexley Labour but the general trend is instructive.
To some extent this mirrors the polls. Livingstone was polling more poorly when the postal ballots were sent out and his vote had rallied a little by polling day itself. Sadly for him one in four people had voted by polling day so the edge was taken off the last minute rally.
It also shows an absence of statistical evidence for large scale voter fraud, which almost always takes place by post. There have been allegations of possible fraud on behalf of Labour in Tower Hamlets and Newham but if this was the case the numbers simply do not show it. Both boroughs have lower than average numbers of postal voters and in both postal voters were less likely to vote for Ken or Labour than those who voted at the ballot box.
That does not mean that there was no small scale fraud, but there is no significant vote bump in the postal breakdown that we undoubtedly would see had there been vote stuffing.
The Conservative vote
Conventional wisdom says that postal voters are biased towards a Tory demographic. Tories tend to be a bit older for a start. This election was no exception although the whacking difference in votes, particularly for Boris is striking. In Camden, Haringey and Wandsworth there was more than a ten percent difference in favour of Boris by post than by hand.
Those more conservative demographics also saw a bump in their vote by post. The Christians and the Liberal Democrats both saw a better / less abysmal vote in the postal section, as do UKIP.
However those with more left leaning voters polled worst by post. The Greens and Siobhan Benita both under-performed by post. In the Greens case this is to be expected and has as much to do with the kind of person who votes for them as anything, but with Benita it might reflect that she struggled to raise her profile and slightly more people knew who she was come polling day than they did two weeks before.
BNP voters were less likely to understand which side of the stamp to lick or how to put the envelope in the funny box so are over represented among those who can gain assistance on how to vote at the polling station.
Below we list the proportion of postal voters by borough. It’s worth noting that the City of London is very small in total numbers of voters and many of those who vote there may well not live there for much of the year, hence the high figure.
|City of London||43.59%|
|Kingston upon Thames||31.68%|
|Richmond upon Thames||28.77%|
|Kensington & Chelsea||27.28%|
|Barking & Dagenham||26.56%|
|Hammersmith & Fulham||22.69%|