Private renters, a potential political force to be reckoned with

Polling from our friends at Generation Rent has shown that 35% of private renters are floating voters, who could cast their votes on the basis of housing manifestos. The research also identified 86 ‘private renter marginals’ where private renters have the power to sway the vote. In these constituencies the sitting MP has a majority of less than 35% of the expanding renter population.

Generation Rent conclude that, if either of the two main parties were to take all these ‘private renter marginals’ in 2015, they would return a majority, making renters a political force to be reckoned with.

There is a lot that politicians could be doing to improve the lives of private renters and win these votes

Private renters want more stable, decent and affordable housing.

Our YouGov polling shows that only 1 in 10 renters’ main reason for renting is because it gives them the freedom and flexibility they want. This compares to nearly 6 in 10 renters who say that their main reason for renting is because they have no other choice – because they can’t afford a home of their own or can’t access affordable social housing.

When we asked over 4000 renters what their reasons for moving in the last five years had been, more than 1 in 6 blamed poor conditions, 1 in 8 wanted to live in a cheaper property and 1 in 20 just couldn’t afford their rent payments. This tallies with Generations Rent’s findings that two-thirds of private renters (67%) felt stuck renting because of the cost of buying, and more than half (52%) said the level of their rent was their biggest problem. 

Shelter has called on the government to take action to improve stability and conditions in the sector. For political parties, this could be a crucial vote winner at next year’s general election.

Unlocked potential

However, far too many renters are currently disenfranchised. Only 58% of private renters are registered to vote compared to almost 90% of owner occupiers.

Estimates suggest, that roughly 3.8 million potential private renter voters in England are not registered and many of the remaining 5.2 million may find they are no longer eligible to vote at the 2015 general election, because of a change in the way voter registration is done. From June 2014, everyone who has not been added to the new electoral roll using the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) data mapping will have to register to vote individually. The Government’s trial of the mapping showed that private renters were the group least likely to be matched, and many of them therefore risk falling off the electoral roll.

The political party who makes sure these renter voters are registered, and that they turn out to vote, could have a major electoral advantage in a number of key seats.

Stable renting – a vote winner

Many would argue that it is the demographic profile of private renters – traditionally thought of as much younger than their home owning neighbours – which makes them less likely to turn up at the ballot box or register to vote. But the expanding number of families and people at other, more settled stages of their lives living in the private rented sector suggests that low voting rates are more likely to be caused by the high levels of churn among renters.

People who move more often vote less. Significantly 92% of those who have lived in their home for more than five years are registered to vote, compared with just over 20% of those who’ve been there for less than a year. Moving house means re-registration, which can all too easily slip down your to-do list. Equally, if you suspect you will only be living somewhere for a short while then you may be less inclined to invest in the area and its local politics.

The key to getting more private renters registered is longer, more stable tenancies. When we surveyed renters asking them if they’d like a longer tenancy only 4% disagreed.

Two cautions though: the model proposed cannot rely on landlords proactively offering longer tenancies, as there is little market incentive for them to do so. And whatever model is adopted, renters need to be able to give notice if they need to move on.

It’s clear, though, that making renting better has the potential to win crucial votes for whoever proposes it.  We’re looking forward to seeing every political party compete to make the best offer to private renters at the next election.


One Comment
  1. agree-is there some way Shelter could run a voter registration campaign-perhaps we could learn from the USA campaigns to register black voters-this is something I would be interested in helping with BUT I do not want to join a political party.

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