February 24, 2024

Science must investigate why voter turnout is low

Lübeck. Why do so few citizens participate in local or municipal elections? Re-elected mayor Jan Lindenau (SPD) addressed political institutions active at the national level and proposed a scientific study. The recent run-off election for the mayor of Lübeck gives plenty of cause for concern. 7.5% of those eligible to vote voted at the polling station at the Moislinger Mühlenweg school, 8.4% at the Roter Hahn school in Koknitz, and 9.2% at the Willy Brandt school in Schlutup.

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“There can be many reasons for this, and that is exactly why a scientific evaluation would be useful, so that not everyone is looking for their favorite reasons, but an objective and representative evaluation can be made,” says Jan Lindenau. “The result can then lead to concrete measures,” explains the city mayor. The study could also shed light on other cities, says Lindenau: “In municipal elections in Germany, participation ranges from just over 50 to less than ten percent.”

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“Because of the lack of surveys, we have no choice but to compare anecdotal evidence from conversations with the data,” explains Axel Flasbarth, leader of the parliamentary group and Green Party candidate for mayor. “We try to compare results at the constituency level.” But above all at the level of analyzing polling stations and comparing their changes with previous elections.”

City Mayor Jan Lindenau (SPD) was re-elected to office by 17.6 percent of those eligible to vote. Lindenau suggests conducting a study on low voter turnout.

The decline was particularly sharp in the city centre

37% of those eligible to vote participated in the first round of the mayoral elections, while participation in the runoff decreased to 27%. “One can only speculate why this is so,” says Axel Flasbarth. “The frequently cited and, in my opinion, plausible reason is that there were very few really interesting topics in the election campaign and very few that addressed Campaign”. The views and intentions of the candidates varied widely. “The Green politician suspects that controversial issues such as the HGH municipal retirement home and the New Buddenbrookhaus were of much interest to too few people.

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Read more after the announcement

The decline in voter turnout was particularly sharp in the city centre. Flasbarth offers two reasons: “First, the outcome of the first round of voting was already very clear. On the other hand, it appears that some of the people who voted in the first round did not consider any of the candidates eligible for election in the runoff. Flasbarth was ahead in the city centre, but he did not He is considered present in the runoff round.

Voter turnout over decades

In March 1974, 77.4% of eligible voters in Lübeck participated in the local elections. This quota has never been reached again before and especially since. The lowest participation rate was in 2018, at 34.3 percent. The 41.6% vote in the 2023 local elections gives some hope of reversing the trend.

In March 1983, 82% of eligible voters in Lübeck went to the state election. In May 2022, the percentage was still 52.7 percent. 90.3% of the population of Lübeck participated in the federal elections of November 1972. It was the year of the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Willy Brandt. In addition, the voting age was lowered. There were similarly high levels of participation in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. In September 2021, 72.4% of Lübeck's population participated in the federal elections.

The trend is sometimes broken

The long-term trend of a decline in the number of citizens interested in local elections is sometimes broken. In the run-off elections for the mayoral position in 2005, 62.2% of those eligible to vote participated – a number that had never been reached since the introduction of direct election of administrative heads. Reasonable assumption: The federal election took place on the same day. “Many citizens probably said to themselves: If we are going there, we might as well draw another cross,” suspects Mayor Lindenau.

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CDU district leader Carsten Gromann welcomes Lindenau's proposal for a scientific study: “If it is possible to find ways on how to persuade people to participate more in democratic elections, this is worth supporting.” On the other hand, the leader of the FDP parliamentary group, Torsten Furter, said he did not see any benefit in this: “I do not expect any great new results from such a study. The reasons for the low voter turnout are clear.”

Those were the days: In the September 1954 state elections, 77.6% of eligible voters in Lübeck cast ballots.

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Read more after the announcement

“Local election campaigns are often somewhat homespun.”

The FDP politician explains that local political issues that are as important to the daily lives of citizens as federal political decisions are not the focus of the national media and are therefore of less interest. It is also no secret that voter turnout in socially difficult areas is lower than in areas that are socially better off.

In addition, campaigning at the local level is often quite homey – with an information booth, pens and balloons. “We have to make election campaigns more modern and more issue-oriented,” says the FDP politician, who has already participated in several election campaigns.