Will May 5 election prove that Bristol wants an elected mayor?

April 29 2016

WHOEVER wins the mayoral election on May 5, we should at least learn one thing: Is Bristol more enthusiastic about having a mayor than we were four years ago?

WHOEVER wins the mayoral election on May 5, we should at least learn one thing: Is Bristol more enthusiastic about having a mayor than we were four years ago?

In 2012, at the first mayoral election, only 28 per cent of voters turned out, meaning that 72 per cent chose not have a say.

George Ferguson won with 37,000 votes against 31,000 for Labour’s Marvin Rees. Mr Ferguson won with the support of 35 per cent of those who voted, but only 11.5 per cent of all voters.

Turnout in the referendum earlier in 2012 on whether to have a powerful elected mayor was even lower. Bristol was one of only 10 cities voting in 2012 to produce a majority – 53 per cent of votes – in favour.

However, in the referendum only 24 per cent of voters turned out – meaning more than three quarters chose not to vote at all.

The turnout varied wildly across the city, largely in line with the prosperity of an area. The lowest vote in the 2012 mayoral election was in deprived Hartcliffe, where only 11 per cent voted. In well-off Henleaze, the figure was 43 per cent.

In mildly prosperous Knowle, turnout was 24 per cent, and in slightly better-off Windmill Hill, it was 28 per cent.

In Bedminster, 25 per cent voted for a mayoral candidate in 2012, while in Southville the figure was 32 per cent.

But have four years under George Ferguson produced more support for an elected mayor, or at least more interest in city politics?

A recent study shows the new system has changed things. In 2012, under the old system of a council leader elected by the biggest party, 24 per cent of Bristol people thought the city had “visible leadership”.

In 2014, that figure had risen to 69 per cent, according to research by Professor Robin Hamilton of Bristol University.

Voters also seemed to think that the change to an elected mayor meant the interests of Bristol are better represented, with 54 per cent agreeing. Among managers in business and community sectors, the figure was even higher at 78 per cent.

But among councillors – deprived of some of their influence by the mayor – only 33 per cent thought the city’s interests were better represented.

Citizens’ trust in the council to make good decisions has improved only slightly – from 19 per cent in 2012, to 23 per cent in 2014.


IN the council elections, it’s first past the post, meaning one vote per voter, with the winning candidate being the one who gets the highest total, even if the margin is only one vote.

Hoevere, in the elections for mayor, and for the police and crime commissioner, the system is the supplementary vote.

Each voter has two votes – although in 2012, most people used only their first vote.

Voters can mark their first choice candidate, followed by a second choice.

If any candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the first-choice votes, they win.

If no candidate gets half the votes, the second preferences are counted. Whoever has the most votes after this stage wins.

Mr Ferguson polled less than 50 per cent in the first round; he won when 6,000 second preference votes were added.

Second-placed Marvin Rees had more than 5,000 second preference votes – which still left him 6,000 votes behind.

However, the 2012 result makes it clear that second preferences have the potential to change the result – even making a winner out of a candidate who was behind in the first round.

More information on the supplementary vote system, and on the research into attitudes about the mayor, from the Bristol Cable, the city’s co-operatively owned news magazine.