Low turn-out makes TIF referendum a bit random

The so-far low turnout in Manchester’s Transport Innovation Fund referendum apparently has the returning officer worried, but I don’t know why he’s surprised.

The proposal, which would see £3billion invested in the city-region’s transport infrastructure paid for in part by a congestion charge, is the biggest news story in these parts, but that doesn’t mean people will vote. Local and regional media consumption is fairly low. The Manchester Evening News distributes 161,545 copies, while the population of Greater Manchester is 2.56 million; so just over six per cent (although with each copy read by more than one person, it probably reaches something like one in ten). People only really notice national news media.

The MEN’s David Ottewell reckons ‘we should all worry until and unless the overall turnout figure creeps comfortably above 50 per cent.’ But even current levels are (sadly) comparable with local elections.

Low turnouts do make results a little random and threaten democracy; the electorate is a self-selecting sample of the population and so is not representative, especially when that sample is relatively small.

While I’ve voted yes (it was the condition that at least 80 per cent of the investment is in place before charging starts that swung it for me), I reckon the vote’s lost and don’t feel motivated to campaign. The proposal seems complex to some and people don’t vote for things they don’t understand, no voters are more emotional (one of Katharine’s work colleagues insisted the roads haven’t been gritted properly this year because of the congestion charge) and so are more likely to vote and most of all this is actually 10 referenda (one for each local authority) and the yes campaign must win seven of those referenda (opinion polls suggest it has six, but all are close even where the investment is greatest).

Leave a Reply