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42.54% turnout: How preparing my European Studies course made EU news this week

Some academics may think teaching is an obligation that disturbs research. In the publish-or-perish economy of academic life, it may seem as if teaching doesn’t add much to general knowledge and research. But it does, as my discovery this week of the 42.54% turnout figure for the 2014 EU elections shows.

Preparing for my European Studies course as part of the Munich International Summer University (MISU), I discovered something Monday evening that hadn’t yet found its way into the public eye:

Silently, the European Parliament had  corrected the initial turnout figure of the 2014 European Parliament elections of 43.09% down to 42.54%, compared to 43.00% in 2009.

My tweet, retweeted by a number of people in the EU bubble, is, as far as I can see, the first public mention of this turnout downgrading. One day later, European Voice reported. Two days later, Bloomberg, EUobserver and the Telegraph ran the story. Yesterday, EurActiv covered it, too.

I only realised the new figure because, for Tuesday’s class on the EP 2014 elections, I wanted to check any last minute changes to composition of the new parliament’s political groups. Having visited the EP elections results page several times over the past weeks in working on the class, I stumbled over the changed turnout figure because just a few days earlier turnout had still been reported at 43.09%. I still have the old screenshot I wanted to show in class that shows the change.

The 43.09% turnout figure has been widely reported in the news after the EU elections, the core narrative being: “The downwards trend in EP elections turnout has been stopped”. This narrative will stick to many people’s mind and will pop up again and again where people only rely on (old) media reports – because few media will probably take the time to highlight the update prominently. The European Parliament avoided any fuzz around it, too (obviously), and did not highlight that the new narrative should be: “Turnout decline not stopped in 2014 EU elections.”

For academia, this could just be a footnote. However, the first academic articles that mention the old 43.09% figure have been published, and I guess more are in the pipeline that may (still) contain the 43.09%. In this sense, I hope that I may actually have contributed a little in more correct coverage of the EP elections 2014 turnout not just in some news but also in academic research. It’s still time for those writing and researching about the 2014 elections to correct the old figure of 43.09% in their draft articles before it becomes “common wisdom”, cited hundreds of times in presentations, research articles and student papers.

I feel it’s important to highlight that this discovery was made preparing for a class of a European Studies summer course. It’s not a big scoop, and I doubt that my investigative teaching and tweeting will be taken into account when I apply for the next research grant. But every contribution to truth is part of academic work, even if it’s just a (narrative-changing) .55% correction of truth. So teach more, and tweet more, fellow academics!

PS: In the light of this week, I’m definitely opting for teach-or-perish and tweet-or-perish metrics…

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