Public engagement in democracy – the need to be on the electoral register

The Commission has a responsibility to promote public awareness ahead of UK elections. Each year, we undertake a voter registration campaign ahead of scheduled elections, to make sure that eligible voters are aware of the need to be registered; and also that they know there is a deadline by which they need to do this.

And our campaigns are important, as we know the general level of public awareness around registration is not universally high. Our most recent assessment – a pre-poll tracking survey in England ahead of the 2 May local elections – found that only 11% of people know that the deadline is 2-3 weeks before the poll. 28% had no idea of when the deadline was at all. This clearly underlines the need for activity to ensure unregistered electors do not miss the deadline, or believe that they have already done so.

We have a strong record of value for money and performance in these campaigns. This year’s campaign for the local elections, which ended on 12 April, saw over 570,000 people apply to register across England and Northern Ireland; that’s 36% over the campaign target. Last year our campaign for the local elections – the first time we used our ‘Got 5?’ creative approach – won the best not-for-profit campaign at the Media Awards.

We normally have significant time to plan these campaigns, with work beginning the previous autumn; this isn’t always the case, though, as with the unscheduled General Election of 2017. Our contingency planning ensures we are prepared, and on that occasion the majority of our campaign advertising space was booked within three days of the announcement of the poll. So too ahead of the European Parliament elections, and we are now launching activity ahead of these polls to raise awareness of the 7 May voter registration deadline among eligible, unregistered voters.

In planning this campaign we have taken into account the proximity to the local election activity noted above, which was taking place in 249 local authority areas in England and across Northern Ireland; we want to minimise any potential voter confusion, in relation to the registration and polling dates. We have therefore weighted the campaign to areas that have not had local elections, and have therefore not been encouraged to register (nor been made aware of the need to do so) for some time. In the case of Scotland, Wales, and voters overseas, that is two years ago.

We have prioritised the highest reaching channels to drive awareness in the shortened time period. We’ll launch this week with digital advertising, targeted to known under-registered groups (including students, recent movers and some BME communities) as well as overseas citizens, to make best use of our budget. TV advertising will then launch next week leading up the registration deadline, to maximise reach and awareness. This will all be supported by our work with partner organisations who take an interest in driving voter registration; we’re always grateful for their support and the extensive efforts they make to extend the message to their audiences.

Our spending on this public awareness activity will be at a lower level than we would normally spend for a similar national poll, it will make an important contribution to maintaining the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers. This is an ongoing and challenging task, on which we work closely with electoral registration officers across the country. We know that people are significantly more likely to register in the lead up to an election – indeed, in the days and hours before the registration deadline itself – so this provides another valuable occasion to drive registration and to ensure people are able to have their say for these or future elections.

Craig Westwood, Director of Communications and Research

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