Turnout, Participation and Legitimacy in Post-Devolution Wales

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Scully, Roger ; Wyn Jones, Richard ; Trystan, Dafydd (2004)

Low levels of voter turnout in the first election to the National Assembly for Wales in May 1999 brought into question both the ability of devolution to revitalize representative democracy and the legitimacy of the Assembly itself. But drawing wider implications from turnout requires that we understand why electoral abstention was so widespread. We examine three hypotheses about voter turnout in 1999: that non-participation simply reflected a general apathy towards politics; that it was based on a specific apathy towards the new Assembly; or that low voter turnout reflected antipathy towards an unwanted political institution. We find support for the first two hypotheses, but little evidence for the third. Devolution has failed to engage the interest and support of many in Wales, but low turnout has not been prompted by fundamental antagonism to the devolved institution among the Welsh electorate.
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    3 Between 1945 and 2001 turnout in Wales was on average 2.8 per cent higher than turnout across the United Kingdom.

    4 Jonathan Bradbury, David Denver and Iain MacAllister, 'The State of Two Nations: An Analysis of Voting in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Elections 1999', Representation, 37 (2000), 5-18, p. 9.

    5 See, for example, Patrick Dunleavy, Evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration, 15 March 2000.

    6 On 'second order' elections, see Karlheinz Reif and Hermann Schmitt, 'Nine Second Order Elections: A Conceptual Framework for the analysis of European Election Results', European Journal of Political Research, 8 (1980), 3-44; Cees van der Eijk and Mark Franklin, eds, Choosing Europe? The European Electorate and National Politics in the Face of Union (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996).

    9 See Carole Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

    10 On the first two groups, see Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory; for the latter see William E. Scheuerman, Between the Norm and the Exception: The Frankfurt School and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994).

    11 Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 14.

    12 Cited in Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 30.

    13 Ron Davies, Devolution: A Process Not an Event (Cardiff: Institute of Welsh Affairs, 1999), p. 15.

    14 Peter Hain, A Welsh Third Way? (London: Tribune Publication, 1999) passim, but especially pp. 14-15.

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