10m people are not “denied a vote”

‘Let Us Vote’ is a campaign launched by the Another Europe group, on 8th May 2019. It claims that “up to 10m people are denied a vote on the basis of the current rules”.

This figure for adults aged 18 or over is a substantial overestimate, which confuses country of birth with nationality.

Where the Another Europe figure come from

All together, up to 10 million people are denied a vote by the current rules: 7 million UK residents and 3 million UK citizens abroad.

This image, which drops the “up to” prefix, contains a substantial overestimate.

Turning to the campaign’s website, we see an explanation of this 7m figure in their FAQs:

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory estimates that there are 9.4 million foreign-born people living in the UK. Approximately 1 million of these are Commonwealth citizens, and 400,000 are Irish-born. The rest — around 8 million — cannot vote in general elections and could not vote in the 2016 EU referendum.

There are around 5 million British people living abroad. 60%, or 3 million of these have been abroad for more than 15 years and so cannot vote.

Altogether, this amounts to more than 11 million people. We round down to 10 million to take account of factors like those not yet of voting age.

We already see the error: the figure is based on “foreign-born people living in the UK”, but the voting franchise is not based on country of birth.

The franchise for voting in UK general elections (and consequently, the 2016 EU referendum) is principally based on registration, age, nationality and residency. This is a partial list of the criteria:

  • be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
  • be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)

What should that figure be?

The size of the foreign-born population in the UK increased from about 5.3 million in 2004 to just under 9.4 million in 2017. During the same period the number of foreign citizens increased from nearly 3 million to about 6.2 million.

Looking at the ONS Annual Population Survey for July 2017 to June 2018 (which excludes some residents in communal establishments), we find that there are about 6.2m non-British residents in the UK. Since this is a survey estimate, there is a plausible range between 6.0m and 6.3m.

Using a list of qualifying Commonwealth countries (plus the Republic of Ireland) on the 60 top non-British nationalities by citizen, there are about 1.6m non-British residents who hold eligible nationalities.

This pushes our figure down to 4.6m: that statistic must be reduced further to exclude those aged under 18, but I cannot find the required statistics on the ONS website. A data request may be necessary.

It is a political matter whether the right to vote should be conferred onto some resident non-citizens, but statistical claims should be correct.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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