A turning point for European turnout?

From 1979 to 2014, the turnout for the elections for the European Parliament has done one thing: Decrease. From 62 % in 1979 to 42 % in 2014. This is due to a decline in the turnout for some of the older EU-members, like Ireland, Italy, and Germany, over time. But it is also due to the growth of the European Union. The 2004-election was the first where a large group of Eastern European countries voted for the first time; but with very low turnout. This, of course, has also influenced the average turnout for the union.

This year’s election for the European Parliament took place from 23rd to 26th of May, and for the first time, we saw an increase in turnout, which was up to almost 51 %.

We cannot be sure of the reason why so many people turned out to vote this time, but there are several possible explanations.  

First, it seems likely that the previous years’ debate about Brexit has sparked a level of media awareness and coverage of EU news that we have not seen as much before. Second, for some of the newer EU countries, they might have “settled in to” the EU-politics by now.

Looking at the individual countries, it is clear that an impressive increase in some of these has definitely influenced the overall turnout trend. Among these are some newer EU-members like Romania - going from 32 to 51 % turnout - Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. But also some countries that have been in the union for a longer time, have increased their turnout - particularly Spain, Germany, Austria, and Denmark.

For this election, Denmark was a special case, as the national election has been announced to be held on June 5th - just ten days after the European elections. Fear had been voiced that this might influence the participation negatively, as voters would “prioritise” the national election instead. However, this fear appears to have been unjustified, as the Danish turnout went from 56 to 66 %. So rather, it seems that the increased focus on politics reminded the voters to get out and vote at this election as well.

On the general level, we still see a very large variation between the countries, with the turnout of particularly the newer member states being very low - many well below 50 % - and Belgium and Luxembourg both closing in on the 90 %.

Source: The European Parliament, https://election-results.eu/turnout/