Turnout in European elections has become an issue, with commentators focusing on its lower level than national elections and its downward trend over the years.

Of course, a higher turnout is always better. But actually, it’s normal that European elections should have a lower turnout. After all, most political issues are decided by our national parliament, not by the European Parliament — and this is especially true for those which are controversial, like health, welfare, housing, tax, crime, and so on. So the European Parliament will always be less prominent.

Is this an issue? Well, UK local elections often have lower turnouts, and the turnout for the US Congress is about the same — and no-one disputes their democratic legitimacy.

But what of the declining trend? Well, actually, the decline in European elections is less pronounced than the decline in turnout in national parliamentary elections in many countries across the world, including the UK and most other European countries — as this data shows.

What can certainly be a problem, however, is differential turnout: when the supporters of one party turnout to vote when supporters of others don’t. This can seriously skew the results, especially in European elections, which are not entirely focused on the choice of a government. There’s a particular problem if the landscape includes highly-motivated extremists who are more motivated than a fairly complacent mainstream.

Sounds familiar? This is what UKIP and the BNP count on!

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