Over the weekend the Home Office launched its long-awaited Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) advertising campaign, with posters, a radio advert and a TV advert that was shown during Downton Abbey and the X Factor. With just over a month to go until the elections, the campaign is intended to raise awareness about PCCs and encourage people to vote.
Turnout is, of course, a concern. The Electoral Reform Society has predicted that it will be 18.5% and although some questions have been asked about their methodology many people seem to think that their estimate is about right. It has subsequently been reported that those close to the reforms are concerned turnout won’t even be 15%. This would be a severe disappointment, and would raise questions about how effectively the reform has been sold to the public.
Part of the problem is undoubtedly the fact that polling suggests that nearly half of the public have no idea that these elections are taking place. A poll at the end of August for Victim Support found that 47% of respondents had not heard about them, while a further 47% had heard of PCCs but did not know much about them. Only 6% knew a great deal about them. These are worrying figures and a lot now depends on the Home Office’s advertising campaign, work by the Electoral Commission to raise awareness, and the extent to which the national and local media cover the election campaigns.
Possibly more worrying, however, is the fact that even when people are told about the introduction of PCCs, there appears to be little expectation that they will make a difference. This is reflected in a poll published on Friday by RUSI, which found that 47% of respondents thought that PCCs would make no difference in the fight against crime, while only 21% thought that they would help the fight against crime and 13% thought that they would actually hinder it (the rest, 19%, didn’t know). Other polls tell a similar story. A poll by YouGov in September, for example, found that 54% of people thought that PCCs will make no difference or not much difference to how England and Wales is policed, compared to only 21% who thought that they will make a great deal or a fair amount of difference (24% didn’t know).
If this is still the case on election day, it is hard to see why people would turn out to vote for a post that they think will make no difference. It is up to the Home Office to explain what the role is intended to achieve, but it is also now up to candidates to explain what difference they would make in their local area. This is not about making outlandish, if potentially electorally popular, promises that cannot be kept. But candidates do need to make a compelling case for what they would do differently if elected and, crucially, what would change as a result. This is surely an important step towards a decent turnout on 15th November.