Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Moving Target – How Well Do You Know Your Neighbours?

How long have you lived in your home? It’s not a trick question but it’s worth thinking about how often people move house when considering making comparisons between polls especially when there are five years between elections.

In this quick post I just want to show the results of a little research I’ve done into the electoral roll on a single district council ward in the part of the South Norfolk constituency, where I live. I’ve got hold of the electronic electoral register between 2003 and the present day.

With a little jiggery-pokery on Access I’ve been able to use the unmatched-records query function to work-out exactly how many people move each year in the electoral ward.

The results are going to surprise you, especially when the ward in question is a rural one made-up of six villages which I’d have thought had a stable population. The ward comprises 2105 electors this year.

Parish Number of Electors
VillageA - 383
VillageB - 1058
VillageC - 50
VillageD - 205
VillageE - 138
VillageF - 271
Total - 2105

In the table below, I’m going to show how many brand new electors appear on the roll each December. It’s more than you’d think. 2003 is the base year with the changes to the electoral roll printed for the subsequent years

About 175 electors seem to be changing each year. That's about 8.4% of the electorate.

With the figures to hand I thought it would be useful to see the changes in the roll since the last General Election in 2005.

On the face of it it look like the total number of new electors was 880 or 42% of the total. That’s quite a lot but then I realised that some people, for example in the old-folks-home, have moved-in and-out in the period 2005-2009. I’ll call this a double-churn so these people need to be discounted when considering the nett change from 2005-2010 position so we can accurately assess the effect on the General Election.

So, in a separate analysis I worked out the five-year change from 2005 to 2010 and it turns out that the difference is 655 electors or 31.1% of the total. About a third.

The percentage changes for each village are printed below and they all show a pretty consistent churn rate. It’s not as if one village has a particularly big churn. They’re all pretty much of a muchness. About a third each.

So, in this sleepy rural area just under a third of the electorate has changed since the last General Election in May 2005.


People have moved-away. Others have moved-in. Some have died. Some have divorced. Some have married [name changes are included in my churn figures]. We’ve had some youngsters come onto the roll for the first time. A few have moved within the village from a larger house to a smaller one and vice-versa but the bottom line is that a third of the roll in this countryside ward has churned in five years.

The churn’s got to be bigger in University towns, in areas where there’s been mass immigration and where there’s been large-scale housing development. You know, it might be in these urban areas that there’s been a 50% change in the electorate in five years. I can’t say what the exact figure here would be but I’d call it significant. And it’s another reason not to rely on the UNS. With upto 50% churn, what's a few percent on the UNS between friends anyway?

:puts on tin hat:

Okay, this is an analysis for a single ward, in a single local authority area, which, in turn, makes-up just one part of a Parliamentary Constituency. But these facts don’t lie.

So, look around you. Over the last five years have either you or your two immediate neighbours moved? Has one house out of three changed hands? I thought so. Just think about it when betting on narrow swings on the 2005 result. And when the papers keep going on about UNS, you'll know that as long as democracy relies on one-man-one-vote, it pays to think where those 'men' live.

Bunnco - Your Man On The Spot


Anonymous said...


Bunnco, this is a very interesting "take" on a local electorate.

I shall be looking at my local area with new eyes now.

NoOffenceAlan said...

With the credit crunch/recession affecting the housing market, I would have expected less churn in 2008/2009, but this doesn't appear so.
Nor does there seem any special effort of people to get registered specifically for the 2005 election.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, and I suspect the database jiggery-pokery was harder than you've made it seem.

If anything, though, wouldn't one expect these changes to make the UNS model more accurate, not less. If more of the electorate is new to each area, then one would expect the unwinding of accumulated pro-Labour factors in the marginals to be reduced, which is one of Andy Cooke's arguments in favour of the Tories beating the UNS.

Jon B said...

I work on a large longitudinal panel survey and we generally estimate that around 10% of people move each year (of course, over a five year period you'll get multiple movers, so it wouldn't be 5 x 10%)

Pensfold said...

Excellent piece of work and probably also relevant to the Buckinghamshire villages where I live.

Even better would be working off the "marked register" of those who voted last time and how many of those are no longer on the register.

I suspect that the movement of those who vote (more elderly) could be a lot less than younger people who are less likley to vote but more likely to move away.