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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
'Lack of choice' leads to voter apathy
Polling station
Less than 50% of voters went to the polls in May
A lack of choice between parties and a failure to "stimulate" voters could be responsible for the poor turnout in May's Scottish Parliament election, according to new research.

The study, conducted by polling organisation ICM for the Electoral Commission and the Scottish Executive, says voters saw very little difference between the political parties and felt relatively out of touch with the party leaders.

It also suggests that voters think Holyrood is not as important as Westminster.

The research, which surveyed 1,100 voters on the four days after the 1 May election, suggested that less than a quarter of the public think the Scottish Parliament has the most influence of how the country is run - down from 41% in 1999.

Turnout at the Scottish Parliament election was 49.4%, down almost 10 points on four years earlier.

The research says that 57% of the electorate do not think the parliament has made any difference to the way Scotland is governed.

One of the problems for the voters was that they didn't feel the leaders were making an impression
Professor John Curtice
Strathclyde University

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, who helped to compile the report, said that voters in Scotland had decided that the Scottish Parliament was not as important as the UK parliament.

He told the BBC's Newsnight Scotland: "It is a less important election in the eyes of many voters so fewer of them decided it was worth going to the polls."

Prof Curtice said that compared to the UK general election a far higher proportion of Scots said they did not know enough about the party leaders.

As many as 37% said they felt they had received too little information about the party leaders and almost half agreed that there was very little difference between what was being offered by the parties.

"One of the problems for the voters was that they didn't feel the leaders were making an impression.

'Constitutional chasm'

"They were not getting their message across. The voters were not stimulated to go to the polls," Prof Curtice said.

He said that the perceived gap between the parties was very narrow, despite the "constitutional chasm" between Labour and the Scottish National Party.

"Many commentators said during the campaign that the manifestos looked like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

"That seems to have been the conclusion that many voters came to as well," according to Prof Curtice.

Ballot paper
Many of those who voted did so out of civic duty

Many of those who did vote in the election were motivated by civic duty, according to the research.

It found more than half of Scots agree strongly that there is a duty to vote - and another one in five tended to agree.

About 10% of the electorate were found to be "serial non-voters" and one in five of those who did not vote said "circumstantial" reasons were responsible for their failure to turn out.

Almost half of all non-voters said polling by post would have made a difference to turnout.

Voting by mobile phone, via the internet or at weekends also found support.

Prof Curtice said that an election in which every vote was cast by post would be likely to lead to a higher turnout.

However, he added that the turnout for Holyrood would always be below that for Westminster as long as it was perceived to be less important and that there was little to choose between the parties.

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