LSE research has made a significant contribution to the digitalisation of UK electoral information, with impartial local election information available for free to citizens across all UK elections.
What was the problem?
All tiers of UK government spend around £850 million every five years on running elections and providing information about them. Yet still there is no easily accessible way for voters to find out digitally what contests are happening in their areas, which candidates are standing, or what views these candidates have. Official information-provision arrangements for the UK are pre-digital in design and are delivered in a fragmented and dissimilar way across many local authority sites. They work especially poorly in reaching young people (who move between areas a lot).
*The data in this case study were gathered between 2015 and 2018.
What did we do?
The Democratic Dashboard is one of the key activities of DemocraticAudit.com led by Professor Dunleavy. The Democratic Dashboard website/resource hub delivers impartial local election information digitally to citizens across all UK elections.
The Democratic Dashboard integrates information at the local contest level, by meeting all the information needs of voters in one place, and by delivering the solution digitally from the outset – especially to the key target group – younger voters under 35, for whom existing voter information channels work poorly.
The Democratic Dashboard provides local contest information about parties, candidates, past voting, and polling stations for all UK elections in one place, accessed by a user’s postcode and delivered instantly and free to any smartphone, tablet or PC.
By entering their postcode or a place name into their device, citizens get instant free access to:
- Details of what election is (next) happening in their local area and when, across all tiers of government (and since 2017 across all parts of the UK), including general elections, devolved elections, local authority contests at all tiers, and Police Commissioner elections. (European Parliament elections were also covered in 2016, now scrapped.)
- Full information on the vote outcome for parties last time in their area for that election, and in two or three earlier elections.
- A map of the local area where the election is being held.
- Since 2017, the local polling station location has been marked on a map for people who use postcodes to access the Democratic Dashboard website (courtesy of data from Democracy Club) – this works for around 75 per cent of polling stations in stable locations nationwide.
- Courtesy of Democracy Club, local candidates’ names and digital social media sources are supplied (so that voters can access their Twitter, Facebook, or website and see what kind of person they are).
- Candidate background information is generally best developed for general elections, but local authority leader information is now being added for council elections.
- Social background and contextual information are added for constituencies at general elections.
The website first went live in an early version for the general election of 2015, when the team were allied with Vote Match. The website received 250,000 visits for the 2015 general election period, an astonishing achievement. On the basis of this success, the team won two grants of £30,000. One from HEIF 5 at LSE, and the other from Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
The website achieved over 400,000 page views with the aid of some targeted Facebook advertising during the May to July 2016 local and European elections.
In four years (2015 to 2018) and across nine contests, the Democratic Dashboard website has been accessed by 1.2 million users. Half of its users have consistently been the hard-to-reach younger voters, even for low salience contests like local elections.
A key objective of the Democratic Dashboard is to increase the currently very poor digital availability of local election information to younger people (given that a third of 18- to 24-year olds in London move borough every year). The site has been successful in reaching younger age groups. The site is relatively less used by over 55-year olds (who have well-established ways of accessing contextual information).
The Democratic Dashboard website is now set up for the data provided to be easily renewable and the information is updated as soon as elections have passed. An official Gov.uk project will generate more consistent data from local returning officers but covers only “statutory” information (for example, names and addresses of candidates), but not, for example, their social media sites. When the limited Gov.uk project is completed, the election updates should be radically sped up.
By the May 2018 local elections, the website was covering all parts of the UK and despite their low salience, adverse Facebook moves on news sites, and the lack of any publicity budget, the website achieved 180,000 page views. Site usage between elections is much lower, but has somewhat increased partly as the Democratic Dashboard web address gets better known.