MORI chairman Sir Robert Worcester analyses the latest opinion poll data.
Young people and their 'apathy' at the last election caused much hand-wringing among both politicians and the media who were quick to blame the opinion polls' indication that there would be a second Labour landslide, causing many people not to vote.
This conveniently overlooked the fact that in the 1997 election everyone expected Labour's 179 seat landslide, and got it on a turnout of 71.5 per cent, as everyone also did in 1983 when Mrs Thatcher's 143 majority was the result on a turnout of 72.7 per cent.
Both of these were lower than the post-war average of just over 76 per cent, but until the past two elections there was no 'long term' decline.
UK General Election Turnout Since 1945
My column in Profile, the membership magazine of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, for March/April has just been published, and looks into this problem. In it, I reported that the work we did for the Electoral Commission immediately following the last election quickly showed there was no decline in interest in politics in 2001. Asking the same question measuring political interest going back to 1973 found no decline whatsoever — 60 per cent in 1973 and 59 per cent in 2001.
There was also a high (68 per cent) level in interest in news about the election. What was different then? Only 30 per cent said they thought it was an interesting election.
This was true in spades among the youth vote. While 70 per cent of the over-65 cohort voted in 2001, a respectable figure, only 39 per cent of the young, 18 to 24, voted.
They thought the election wasn't interesting, and most had made up their minds not to vote before the election ever began, and saw no reason to change their minds during the campaign.
Why? The same suits, worn by the same few men, avoiding (as the public sees it) journalists' (shouted and interrupting) questions, refusing to meet with 'ordinary people' and sanitised meetings restricted to carefully chosen party loyalists.
Despite much promise of altered formats by both politicians and the media, there has been little change in the parties' tight control of their conferences and walkabouts, John Prescott and Tony Blair's recent confrontations excepted.
The media's response is to have reporters leaping into helicopters (while the BBC lays off many of its news staff), with other journos riding barges and battle buses to confront politicians on the stump. Gimmicks.
The result? Another likely low turnout from young people, and while those 55 and over represent a third of electors, they'll likely be nearly half of those who vote on 5 May.