Civic enthusiasm or population change: why was the turnout in London’s mayoral election so high?

Some ballot boxes. In London. Image: Getty.

Alongside the result itself and controversies surrounding the campaign, one of the biggest stories of the London Mayoral election was its remarkable turnout.

Despite predictions of low turnout in polls, 46 per cent of the electorate cast a vote in 2016, up from 38 per cent in 2012. The 2016 turnout is the highest recorded since London was granted the right to elect a mayor in 2000, slightly over the 45 per cent mark when Boris Johnson first ran in 2008.

Commentators have put forward a range of explanations for this unexpected surge in democratic activity: the appeal of a guaranteed new mayor, an emotional reaction to the main candidates’ campaigns, or as a sign that the mayoral institution is growing in significance.

Others, however, have suggested that the increase in turnout reflected electoral roll shrinkage, as a result of the new voter registration system introduced in 2014. Voters now need to register individually, rather than being registered by the household. Young people, as renters, were predicted to lose out in the transition.

Was the increase in turnout a mark of renewed civic enthusiasm? Was it the effect of London’s rapid population change? Or was it the direct consequence of having fewer voters on the register?

The truth is: it was a mixture of the three.

Population change

The background to the election, like so many things in London, is the city’s growth. London’s population is growing, and changing as it grows, which could explain why Londoners are more likely to cast a vote.

The capital is gradually becoming home to a greater proportion of higher-skilled people, who are more likely to vote. London has also gained 350,000 people in voting age between 2012 and 2016. (We use adult population as a proxy for the number of people who have the right to vote in the London.)

Population increased most rapidly in the East End – where it grew by a striking 10 per cent in just four years – but more slowly in west London boroughs. (Figures are for the mayoral election and boroughs are grouped together by London Assembly constituency.)

Electoral register

The adult population has grown by 350,000 – yet the electorate has shrunk. Indeed, the electoral register in May 2016 had 60,000 fewer people than in 2012. The registration rate dropped from 90 to 84 per cent of the adult population.

This drop in registration may be attributed to the new registration system. This requires individuals to take action. With fewer people registered by default, you would expect the smaller electorate to be more likely to turn out on polling day. 

The drop in the electorate was most dramatic in the West End. This area has seen most growth in international buyers of prime London real estate, who may not be able to vote or may not even live in the capital. The Guardian recently reported that 184 of the 214 apartments in St George’s Wharf in Vauxhall had no person registered to vote.

*May 2012 data for Croydon and Sutton and Bexley was wrong – for these two constituencies December 2012 data was used instead.

Votes cast

But turnout also increased because more people voted in 2016 than in 2012, or even in 2008, despite having fewer voters on the electoral roll. The number of people who turned up to their polling station went down from 2.4m in 2008 to 2.2m in 2012, then up again to 2.6m in 2016.

As the table below shows, the number of people who voted increased most in East London, which has gained a lot of residents. There were also large increases in the two frontrunners’ constituencies, South West London and Merton & Wandsworth; and in the boroughs neighbouring Heathrow Airport, where runway expansion may have galvanised residents.

Here’s those figures again, this time as a share of the total adult population.

This 18 per cent increase in the number of people who voted means that turnout of the voting age population – Including those Londoners who did not register – grew from 35 per cent to near 40 per cent, a similar level to 2008.

This is mixed news for the advocates of elected Mayors. Turnout of the voting age population did come up in the 2016 London election – but just to bounce back to its 2008 level. More people voted than in previous elections, but the growth in the electorate could have been even higher if registrations had kept up with population growth.

With the EU referendum round the corner, London’s mayoral elections have perhaps helped make sure that the capital will turn out to vote. But a growing population with a shrinking electoral roll is not a healthy sign.

Nicolas Bosetti is a research intern at the Centre for London. He tweets as @nicolasbosetti.

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12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.


This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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