Voting on Thursdays – What’s Behind this British Tradition?

When it comes to voting, people have all sorts of traditions. Some voters always take a pen, others go straight to the pub afterwards, and some families vote together. But there’s one voting tradition that overrides them all – namely, Thursdays. You might have noticed – or you might not – that General Elections are always held on a Thursday. Odd, right?

Read on as we explore the reasons behind this peculiar pattern.

A trip back in time

We didn’t always vote on Thursdays. In fact, we didn’t always vote on one day. Prior to 1918, constituencies would vote on different days across four weeks. The problem, it’s thought, was that this created a ‘bandwagon effect’ where a party’s success in one constituency would influence the voting of others. To eliminate this, the 1918 Representation of the People Act restricted polling to a single day.

But which day should they choose? The first single day election was held on Saturday 14th December 1918, with following elections on Wednesdays, Thursdays and one Tuesday over the next 13 years. Since the 1930s, however, every single General Election has been held on a Thursday.

Why Thursday?

While it’s not cut and dry, most of the reasons for voting on a Thursday point to the day it precedes. Friday was traditionally pay day for British workers, which meant one thing – they were off down to the pub. Having the vote on Thursday avoided them voting under the influence, but it also eliminated so-called ‘Conservative brewing interests’. Allow us to elaborate…

Conservative brewing interests 

The 1872 Licensing Act restricted opening hours for public houses, regulated beer content, and gave local authorities the option to ban alcohol completely. It was a Liberal Act that enraged publicans and brewers, who then – it’s thought – influenced their customers to vote against the Liberals. The following election was won by the Conservatives.

From then, there was a great deal of political funding for brewers, several of whom entered parliament as MPs, with many awarded peerage and other honours. The Conservatives clearly enjoyed having the brewers on their side – and a vote on Thursday rather than Friday aimed to minimise this unfair influence.

Two sides of the story

Thursday polling isn’t just a tradition to avoid Conservative interest, though. It also eliminates the influence of Church ministers, who were generally Liberal-leaning. Priests would see large amounts of the public on Sundays at Church, where they may have been able to influence their voting preference. A Thursday vote was a good fit to avoid both the liberal persuasion of the Church and the Conservative interests of the pubs.

But what about other elections? By-elections have been held on Thursdays with just two exceptions after 1965. Since 1972, when Urban and Rural District Councils were replaced with District Councils, local elections have also been held on Thursdays. It’s clearly a tradition that’s recognised in British politics, as both the 2016 EU Referendum and 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum were held on Thursdays.

The rest of the electoral calendar

Hence the election is always on Thursday, the date changes every year meaning that all the other deadlines leading up to election change annually as well. These include rolling registration periods, application and alteration notice deadlines. The dates can be calculated based on various rules of electoral legislation and is a complex, lengthy task. However our software calculates these automatically. We also offer a digital and printed calendar for free. The printed version includes additional information on future elections, who can register to vote, major religious festivals, bank holidays, minimum wage and more.  

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