• Evidence suggests that voter numbers have declined globally since the 1960s. 
  • In the UK, some eligible voters are less likely to vote than others. This includes younger people, people with fewer qualifications, people with lower socio-economic backgrounds, people who were born overseas and people from ethnic minority groups. 
  • Eligible voters might not vote due to political disengagement and/or logistical or bureaucratic barriers such as incorrect registration on the electoral roll.
  • Several policy initiatives may increase voter turnout, including compulsory voting, automatic voter registration, civic engagement and voting age reform. 

Eligible voters who do not vote in an election may be referred to as non-voters or abstainers. This includes people who actively choose not to vote, show no interest in voting or those who are prevented from voting by logistical or bureaucratic barriers.  

The number of people who vote in an election (turnout) is regarded as an indicator of democratic health. When turnout falls and levels of non-voters rise, elected institutions are considered to become less representative of the citizens they serve.  

People vote because they wish to exercise their electoral preferences or express their sense of civic duty. However, evidence suggests that voter numbers have declined. One academic study estimated that global turnout has declined by 10 percentage points since the 1960s (from 77% to 67%). 

A 2023 report from the House of Commons Library outlined statistical trends in turnout at elections in the UK. In the 2019 general election, turnout was estimated to be 67.3%. 

A chart showing voter turnout between 1918 and 2019.
Source: House of Commons Library, UK Election Statistics

Who does not vote and why not? 

There are many related factors which affect whether people vote or not. Some demographic groups are less likely to vote than others. 

Demographic factors  


Young people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds with fewer educational qualifications, are less likely to engage with democratic processes.  

Older and younger generations of voters often hold different attitudes to political participation. Since 1997, the UK general election turnout rate for those aged 65 years and over has consistently been at least 20 percentage points higher than for those aged 18-24 years. This creates ageing democracies as the politically active section of the electorate gets older. Academics suggest that this can skew policymaking in favour of older voters. 

However, since 2015 there has been a modest increase in turnout among young people 

A chart showing voter turnout by age, with turnout increasing by age group.
Source: British Election Study. Adapted from the House of Commons Library (CBP-8060).

Young people’s use of social media can have a positive impact on engagement with politics, yet the diversity and nature of their social media use means that it is less easy to target them with electoral information. One study found no evidence to suggest that social media adverts influence voter registration 

Academic studies of civic education in schools produce varying conclusions as to its effect on improving civic engagement among young people.  

Socio-economic background 

Academics have noted that rates of abstention are higher in groups from lower socio-economic backgrounds and rise in areas that are “left behind”. A 2022 report on political inequality in Britain identified growing gaps across income, education and homeownership groups in voter turnout during 1964-2019, with non-homeowners, those with lower incomes and those with fewer educational qualifications less likely to vote. 


Academics have studied the effect of an individual’s state of health on voting behaviour. Physical limitations or psychological issues can negatively affect someone’s capacity to engage with electoral politics.  

Research suggests that healthcare professionals can play a part in facilitating registration and turnout. This includes checking patients’ voting rights, assessing their mental capacity and supporting them through the registration process. 

Ethnicity and nationality 

Other demographic factors include ethnicity and whether somebody was born in another country 

A 2021 report stated that while 11% of White British people in the UK are not registered to vote, the figure rises to 14% for people of Indian heritage, 25% for Black African minorities and 39% for EU migrants.  

Political disengagement 

People are less inclined to vote if they do not believe that their individual actions can make a difference to political outcomes. People who are politically disengaged are less likely to vote. The House of Commons Library published a report on political disengagement in 2022. 

In March 2024, a survey of 4,135 adults by the Office for National Statistics indicated that 44% of respondents reported little or no confidence in their ability to participate in politics, and 63% had little or no confidence that they have a say in what the Government does. 

Some politically active people make a deliberate, informed choice not to participate in electoral processes, and may engage in alternative forms of political participation. 

Others may not be motivated to vote. Academic research suggests that non-voters may feel parties do not have candidates or policies that are relevant to them while parties may only have an incentive to develop policies relevant to people who vote.  

For example, academic research has linked an increase in working-class abstentionism in UK general elections with a decrease in the number of MPs with working class backgrounds.  

International evidence suggests that non-voters’ disillusionment with mainstream parties sometimes converts into a willingness to turn out to vote for populist parties 

Some studies suggest that voting tendencies can develop into habits that are difficult to break, yet life events can disrupt any such habit. An individual’s voting behaviour can also reflect the habits of those they live with. 

Local context 

Non-voting can vary by geographical area.  

Party competition and polarisation motivates voters to turn out, but in seats where a particular candidate is likely to win, there may be less incentive for parties to invest resources in persuading marginal voters. Voters in safe seats may stay at home if they feel their vote has no influence on the election outcome.  

Logistical and bureaucratic barriers 

Some people are deterred from voting if they lack the necessary information on how to vote or encounter barriers in the run-up to an election or on polling day.  

Registering to vote 

To participate in a UK election, eligible voters must actively opt in to be listed on the electoral register 

A 2023 report estimated that up to 8 million people in the UK are not correctly registered at their current address. People who intend to vote in 2024 by post or proxy may not be aware of recent changes to procedures for registration 

Registration among people who will turn 18 before an upcoming general election dropped from 51% in 2014 to 16% in 2022. The Electoral Commission linked this to the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER) in 2014. 

In a study carried out during the 2015 UK general election, 68% of the poll workers taking part had to turn away a small number of electors because they were not correctly registered or they turned up to the wrong polling station.  

Inaccuracy and incompleteness in the register contributes to difficulty estimating voter abstention in the UK. The Electoral Commission has stated that major changes to the current electoral registration system are needed to address this. 

The UK Democracy Fund is supporting non-partisan efforts to increase registration and turnout in groups less likely to vote. However, such initiatives can be hindered by inaccessibility to relevant data 

Voter ID 

Following the Elections Act 2022, voter ID is now mandatory on polling day. This may disproportionately impact some demographic groups. 

Academic research demonstrates that some groups are less likely to have photo ID than others, including people with fewer educational qualifications and lower household incomes. 

Interim analysis from the Electoral Commission showed that 37,000 people arrived at the polling stations without the correct ID in the May 2023 local elections in England. Of those, around 14,000 people (equivalent to 1 in 400 of the total number who turned out to vote) did not return. 

Election timings and frequency 

Academic research suggests that, internationally, an increase in the number of elected institutions and election frequency contributes to lower turnout.  

Voters may be motivated to participate in one type of election, or in a referendum, but abstain in others. International research suggests that turnout in one type of election may influence turnout in another (for example, national and local elections). 

The weather can play a part in people’s voting behaviour. For every centimetre of rainfall on polling day, turnout reduces by 0.95 percentage points. 


Electoral registration in the UK is highest among disabled citizens yet they have lower levels of participation than non-disabled voters. International data suggests that people with disabilities have lower levels of confidence that they can influence the political process. 

Provisions in the Elections Act 2022 aim to make it easier for disabled voters to cast their vote discreetly and independently.  


Threat of violence or voter intimidation can occur during elections held outside established democracies. Women are especially vulnerable. 

The Elections Act 2022 has updated the definition of ‘undue influence’ on voters in the UK. Those convicted of this practice are disqualified from standing for election or holding elected office.  

Increasing turnout 

Policy initiatives to encourage or enforce participation can help to reduce turnout inequality between groups. 

Compulsory voting 

In some countries voting is compulsory. This increases turnout and improves the turnout equality gaps between different socio-economic groups. For example, turnout in Australian elections regularly reaches 95%.  

However, the success of embedding compulsory voting also depends on enforcing sanctions for abstention such as fines. Imposing sanctions has risks for potential infringement on individual freedom and the disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups. 

Automatic electoral registration 

Automatic voter registration could add millions of missing voters to the register and improve turnout. It would also reduce pressure on electoral administrators whose resources are stretched to meet increasingly complex electoral requirements.  

In 2023 the Welsh Government introduced a Bill to the Senedd to pilot schemes for automatic registration.  

The Electoral Commission has developed a range of options for modernising electoral registration, such as using data from tenancy deposit schemes to signpost private renters to registration.  

Implementing automatic voter registration may require significant costs and resources. Automatic registration presents challenges for privacy when collecting personal data, and inaccuracies may prevent people from voting or present opportunities for fraud.  

Voting age reform 

Lowering the voting age to 16 has been proposed as another way to increase turnout. Turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds was around 75% when they were included in the franchise for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.  

However further research is needed to determine the impact of voting age reform on long-term voting behaviour. 


POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for contributing their expertise during the preparation of this briefing: 

  • Professor Alistair Clark, Newcastle University* 
  • Professor Filip Kostelka, European University Institute* 
  • Dr Chris Prosser, Royal Holloway University of London* 
  • Professor Robert Ford, University of Manchester 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.  

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