Eindhoven just cannot get more residents to vote

Eindhoven municipal elections
Photo credit: Studio040

For years, Eindhoven has not succeeded in boosting the turnout figures for the municipal elections. The municipality hardly knows why people do not vote. The information that is available, is not being used yet.

Voting in the Mayor’s office or in a mobile ballot box: at the beginning of this year, all kinds of campaigns were launched to boost the turnout during the municipal elections. Without success, the turnout was historically low. Less than 42 per cent of the people of Eindhoven went to the polls.

Big difference nationally and locally

Since 2010, the turnout percentage during the municipal elections has fluctuated around 44 per cent. This is much lower than the national average of 53 per cent. The difference in turnout with national elections is also larger than average in Eindhoven. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of the Dutch population vote in the House of Representatives. In Eindhoven, the average is 74 per cent.

So, for many people in Eindhoven, the following applies: if they vote, they vote mainly in the elections to the House of Representatives (‘Tweede Kamer‘). This means, among other things, that the municipal council is not a good reflection of the city’s population. Yet the municipality does not know why people stay away from the ballot box. And especially, how the turnout can be boosted.

Not voting because of lack of political knowledge

Research by the CBS (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, central bureau of statistics) shows that lack of political knowledge is one of the main causes of low voter turnout. Political involvement and interest in politics are also important predictors. The more people know about politics and feel involved in it, the sooner they will go to the polls.

However, the CBS study did not look at each municipality separately. The municipality of Eindhoven does not have this data either. “Because of the secrecy of the vote, no information on personal level is available at both the municipality and the CBS”, the municipality states. “Investigating why so many residents do not vote therefore remains difficult.”

Although no records are kept of who votes, there is information on where most people go to the polls. Earlier research by Studio040 showed, for example, that in Eindhoven it is mainly the inhabitants of the inner city who go to vote. The victory of GroenLinks (green left party) during the last elections can even largely be attributed to the number of people (seven out of ten) who went to vote in the centre. In the Erp district of Woensel-Zuid, slightly less than three in ten residents filled in a ballot paper.

The conclusions of the CBS also seem to apply to Eindhoven. The Inhabitant Survey 2021 shows that three out of ten people do not vote because they think they know too little about local politics. One in three of them thought they would vote if they had more political knowledge. The Inhabitant Survey only asks about the voting intention, and is therefore not in breach of the secrecy of the vote. However, it is not certain whether everyone who said they would vote actually did so during the elections.

People who do say they will vote also think the municipality’s communication is inadequate. Three quarters would like more information on the decisions of the municipal council.

Not involved and not interested

At the same time, two out of five Eindhoven residents do not know how they can make their opinion heard in another way than voting. Councillors can for instance be approached by letter or e-mail, and of course through social media. Citizens can also start petitions and citizens’ initiatives, and they can join opinion-forming meetings of the city council.

It is therefore not surprising that 84 per cent of the participants of the survey think that councillors do not know what they think. They are not listened to properly, according to 83 per cent of respondents. Four out of five residents feel that the city council is not representative of the population, which makes them feel uninvolved in politics and politicians.

In addition, less than half of the respondents say they are interested in local politics (48 per cent). Young people, people with a lower education and people with a low income are the least interested in politics. These are also the groups that invariably vote the least, according to research by Studio040. Richer, well-educated people over 65, on the other hand, vote the most often.

Shared responsibility

The question is, of course, whether the municipality is responsible for the turnout. The municipality itself considers it a shared responsibility. Political parties are also responsible for the turnout figures. “After all, they are dependent on the voters”, a spokesman for the municipality says. Floris Vermeulen, political scientist at the University of Amsterdam, agrees with the municipality in that sense. Yet he also emphasises the municipality’s interest in good turnout figures. “A high turnout is good for the legitimacy of the political system”, he says. A municipal council can only organise suitable policies and regulations for a city if it is a good reflection of the city.

Political scientist Dr Kristof Jacobs of Radboud University finds it difficult to say who exactly is responsible for boosting turnout figures. “That is more of a philosophical question. It comes from several sides: the municipality, political parties, but also from citizens themselves”. Jacobs believes everyone is responsible for turnout figures to some extent. “Although, the government can do what it wants, if it doesn’t institute compulsory voting, it will have little effect”.

Research shows that compulsory voting is actually the only measure that really has a tangible effect. “As a municipality, you cannot decide on this on your own, of course”, Jacobs says. When it comes to increasing the turnout, however, municipalities must also continue to think realistically, according to him. “In a big city, turnout is low. You can try to boost it, for example, by running campaigns to promote turnout, but the effect of such actions turns out to be limited”.

Citizen consultation to boost involvement and interest

In order to increase the political involvement of the people of Eindhoven, D66 (democrats) submitted an initiative proposal to organise citizens’ councils. In such a council, a diverse group of Eindhoven citizens is selected to advise the council on issues that concern them as citizens. By increasing participation, D66 hopes to get more people in Eindhoven to vote.

Whether organising citizens’ councils will be the solution for the low voter turnout is still doubtful. “It is not a panacea”, Kristof Jacobs says. “It will not suddenly increase the turnout from 41.8 to 70 per cent, but if it increases by 3 or 4 percentage points, that is already an improvement”. Floris Vermeulen: “Anything that ensures that citizens are more involved in local politics has a positive impact on turnout”.

Not all parties agree with the proposal of the citizens’ councils. The SP (socialist party), for instance, thinks that you do not reach the people you would like to reach, says Jannie Visscher. “We would like to restore trust in local politics, but this is not done by organising citizens’ councils”, Visscher says. “In order to gain trust, you first have to be trustworthy yourself. That is where it starts”.

The discussion of the initiative proposal on the citizens’ council should have been postponed for the time being, but despite this decision, the citizens’ council has been included in the administrative agreement. This means that at least one citizens’ council will be organised in the coming term. It is not known when and about what this will be.

Source: Studio040

Translated by: Bob

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