Portugal among EU countries with lowest voter turnout for government elections

In the 2019 and 2022 legislative elections, five in ten Portuguese voters did not go to the polls, and there is a general trend towards increased abstention rates. This increase can be attributed to factors such as inequality, low salaries and lower levels of education.

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© Nogueira Lopes | Divergente

Three in ten Europeans did not vote in the elections that appointed their country’s current head of government, and Portugal is no exception. It ranks among the bottom five countries in the European Union in terms of voter turnout for government elections and, over the past 15 years, the abstention rate among Portuguese voters has always been over 40%. This figure reached all-time highs in 2019 and 2022, with abstention rates of 51% and 49%, respectively, surpassed only by Romania (68%), Bulgaria (59%), Croatia (53%) and Lithuania (52%) in the last election.

Cross-referencing abstention figures with demographic and socio-economic indicators shows that fewer people vote in countries with a higher inequality index and in countries with a higher percentage of people working in the agriculture and fisheries sector (the primary sector). On the other hand, the higher a country’s average salary, the higher the percentage of people who exercise their right to vote in government elections.

These trends are also present in Portugal, with the highest abstention rates occurring in the regions with the highest levels of inequality and the highest proportion of primary-sector workers. However, there is one thing that makes Portugal different from the rest of Europe: the lower the level of education in a region, the higher the abstention rate in the last legislative elections. Another point worth noting is that, of the 20 parishes with the highest abstention rates in the 2022 legislative elections, 15 of these are in the Autonomous Region of the Azores, and the remaining five are in the northern and central regions of the country. 

Despite rising abstention figures across the EU, the highest turnout rates among European voters are seen in the legislative elections (or presidential elections, in the case of the presidential political systems of France and Cyprus), with an average abstention rate of 27.9%, compared to 39.6% for local elections and 52.3% for European Parliament elections. These figures take into account all elections having taken place in the 27 EU Member States between 1974 and 2023.

Conversely, most EU countries have their highest abstention rates in the European Parliament elections. In the most recent European Parliament elections in 2019, five in ten voters abstained. Proportionally, Slovakia had the highest abstention rate (77.3%), followed by Czechia (71.3%), Slovenia (71.1%) and Croatia (70.1%). Abstention rates in Portugal have always been over 60%, with the exception of 1987 and 1989.

These increasingly high abstention rates raise a number of questions. What dangerous areas of democracy are we heading towards? What is the risk to democracy when the near-majority of citizens forgo their right to decide? If non-voters decided to exercise this right, what choices would they make?

Original source: https://expresso.pt/politica/eleicoes/legislativas-2024/2024-02-22-Portugal-entre-os-cinco-paises-da-UE-onde-menos-se-vota-para-formar-Governo-e6e882c2

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