Electoral Commission
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Research reveals unacceptable abuse and intimidation towards election candidates

New research conducted by the Electoral Commission has uncovered significant levels of abuse faced by candidates in the May 2024 elections. 

In England, 43% of candidates surveyed reported experiencing some kind of abuse or intimidation, with 10% describing it as a serious problem. This increased to 56% when respondents were presented with a list of specific scenarios, such as receiving physical threats or threats towards family, staff or friends. 

The issue was particularly severe among women candidates, with 56% avoiding campaigning alone, compared to 19% of men. Nearly half (47%) of the women who responded avoided discussing controversial topics to keep themselves safe, compared to 20% of men who responded. 

Ahead of the general election, the Electoral Commission is calling for a campaign free from abuse.

Today, we have published updated guidance which outlines the actions and behaviours that may constitute a criminal offence. We urge candidates to report these to the police, and campaigners to talk to their staff and volunteers about the importance of safe campaigning.

Vijay Rangarajan, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, said: 

"Campaigning is vital to our democracy and usually carried out respectfully. However, our research shows that far too many candidates are facing harassment and abuse. 

“This can deter candidates from campaigning or standing altogether, significantly impacting voter choice and access to information. 

“Threats of violence, unwanted contact, and discriminatory abuse are illegal. With the police we are today publishing safe campaigning guidelines, and we are working together to raise awareness. We urge campaigners to talk to their teams about what they can do.” 

The Commission gathers and analyses data on candidate intimidation and will continue to monitor and share its findings to inform a wider understanding of the threats facing candidates.

Su Moore, Chief Executive of the Jo Cox Foundation, said:

"Through the Jo Cox Civility Commission, we highlighted how abuse and intimidation of politicians negatively affects democracy in the UK and this new research reveals the scale of abuse in our elections, with particularly stark figures on how it is impacting women candidates.

“We all have a responsibility for changing the perception that elected representatives are acceptable targets of abuse and intimidation. For candidates standing in the General Election, we have launched a Civility Pledge in collaboration with Compassion in Politics, which we are urging all candidates to sign as a commitment to running a respectful campaign."

Temporary Assistant Commissioner Nik Adams, from the City of London Police and the NPCC portfolio lead for elections, said: 

“Our democracy can be harmed if our elections are undermined, and this can happen in a number of ways. Firstly, during campaigns and the run up to elections; threats, intimation and hate can undermine people’s willingness to stand, and it can also undermine free speech and free debate.

“Secondly, during elections themselves, coupled with fraud and abuse of the rules, this can undermine a sense of fairness and people’s willingness to vote, and it can change voting behaviours, intentions and outcomes.

“That’s why it is really important that police forces across the country work together with partners to tackle these issues.”

Doug Chalmers, Chair of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: 

"Intimidation and abuse of candidates is unacceptable and damages our democracy. We want robust debate, we want people from all backgrounds to step into public life and we want an election where we can hear about the policies being put forward. 

“Intimidation and abuse matters to us all as it damages these outcomes - we must call it out whenever we see it."

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk (Opens in new window)

Notes to Editors

  • Research conducted by the Electoral Commission following the May 2024 elections in England found that 43% reported some kind of problem with harassment, threats, or intimidation. 
  • The study was carried out online in May 2024. It had 430 respondents from candidates standing at the May 2024 elections in England. 
  • Respondents were shown a list of types of harassment and asked if they had experienced any of them during their campaign. Overall, 56% said they had experienced one of the scenarios at least once.
  • Female candidates were more likely to avoid campaigning on their own. 56% of female respondents said that they avoided campaigning alone compared to 19% of male respondents.  
  • The most common places to experience harassment were online or while out canvassing. Of those who said they had experienced one of the forms of harassment listed, 55% said they experienced abuse online while 46% experienced it while out canvassing. 5% told us they experienced harassment outside polling stations, and 5% experienced harassment outside of their home.
  • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity. 
    • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
    • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
    • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
  • The Jo Cox Foundation makes meaningful change on issues that the late Jo Cox MP was passionate about. The charity works in three areas: nurturing stronger communities, championing respect in politics and advocating for a fairer world. Underpinning this work is the understanding that we have more in common than that which divides us. Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June 2016 in the place she loved – Batley and Spen – doing the work she loved, as an MP on behalf of her constituents.
  • The City of London Police is responsible for policing the City's business district, the 'Square Mile' in the historical centre of London. In addition, it holds national responsibility for Economic Crime and under this remit is host to Action Fraud (the national fraud and cyber crime reporting service), the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department and the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit. The City of London continues to be one of the safest urban areas in the country.
  • The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life advises the Prime Minister on arrangements for upholding ethical standards of conduct across public life in England. It conducts broad inquiries, collecting evidence to assess institutions, policies and practices and makes recommendations to the Prime Minister where appropriate. The Committee promotes the Principles of Public Life, which outline the ethical standards those working in the public sector are expected to adhere to.

 

Channel website: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk

Original article link: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/media-centre/research-reveals-unacceptable-abuse-and-intimidation-towards-election-candidates-3

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