|The Hansard Society have launched the first part of their 9th Audit of Political Engagement report, which claims to measure the ‘political pulse’ of the nation.|
The report aims to provides a benchmark to gauge public opinion on a range of political engagement indicators, including “knowledge of and interest in the political system; the degree of public action and participation in politics; and the public’s sense of efficacy and satisfaction with the democratic process.”
In his preface, the Rt Hon Peter Riddell states:
“This year’s Audit is one of the most interesting, and worrying, so far, in pointing to a growing alienation from national politics.
“A year ago, Audit 8 reflected on a growing sense of indifference to politics. The greater levels of interest in and perceived knowledge of politics in an election year had not been matched by greater satisfaction with, or a greater engagement in, the political process beyond a slight increase in turnout itself. This year’s Audit suggests that indifference has hardened into something more significant, and disturbing. Trends in interest and knowledge are downward, sharply so in some cases.”
Some of the key findings are summarised below, with indicators relating to people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds also included.
Knowledge and interest
• The proportion of the public that say they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ interested in politics has dropped 16 percentage points, now standing at just 42%; the first time interest levels have dropped below 50% in the entire Audit series.
• Perceived knowledge of politics has dropped 9% to 44%, and more people than ever- 15%, claim to know ‘nothing at all’ about politics.
• Those who voted Conservative in the last election are more likely to state a fair or high level of interest in politics (62%) in comparison to Labour voters (52%) and Liberal Democrat voters (53%).
• 44% of respondents from BME backgrounds expressed a fair amount of interest in politics. Falling interest in politics amongst white respondents (down from 60% in Audit 8 to 42% in Audit 9) means that there is a near disappearance of difference in interest levels by ethnicity.
Action and participation
• The number of people who said that they would be certain to vote in the event of an immediate general election fell from 58% to 48%. Additionally, 49% of white respondents said that they would be certain to vote, compared to 37% of BME respondents.
• The highest number recorded in the Audit series- 16%, say that they are ‘absolutely certain not to vote.
• The proportion of the public undertaking voluntary work has dropped from 29% in 2010 to 21%.
Efficacy and satisfaction
• Less than a quarter of respondents- 24%, think that the system of governing works reasonably well, down 7% from last year.
• Fewer BME respondents describe the system as performing ‘extremely’ or ‘mainly’ well (21% down from 37% in 2011).
• In line with previous Audit findings, BME respondents are far more likely to believe that involvement in politics can make a difference to the way the country is run (43%) than white respondents (31%).
Perceptions of parliament
• 36% of respondents claim to know ‘a fair amount’ about the UK Parliament. 4% feel they know ‘a great deal’.
• Amongst the 18-24 age-group, those claiming they know ‘a fair amount’ about Parliament has risen from 17% in Audit 1 to 31% in Audit 9.
• 23% prioritise Parliament’s role in ‘holding the government to account’, and only 13% prioritise ‘scrutinising proposed new laws’. Representing the views of ‘local communities’ and ‘individual citizens’ is prioritised by 28% and 20% of the public respectively.
• Only 49% of respondents agree that issues debated in Parliament have relevance to their own lives, and only 8% of BME respondents ‘strongly agree’ with this.
• Only 30% of the general public agree that public involvement in politics is encouraged by Parliament, whilst the figure is higher amongst BME respondents at 39%.
Civic and political engagement
• People are more likely to believe that getting involved in their local community can really ‘change the way their area is run’ (56%, up on 51% in 2011), compared to their perceived potential to influence the country as a whole (32%).
• There is a shift in perceived local efficacy amongst BME respondents, with ‘strong’ agreement rising from 13% to 21% this year.
• Despite that 56% of people now believe that their involvement in local communities can make a real change, only 38% say that they are willing to become involved in local decision making. Only 33% say that they want to be involved in national decision making.
• 72% agree that referendums should be used more often to determine the outcome of important issues.
Commenting on the report’s findings, Dr Ruth Fox, the director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme stated that "2011 was one of the most turbulent and momentous years in recent history.
"But it appears that the economic crisis, the summer riots and phone hacking did not lead to any greater interest in or knowledge of politics.
"Thus far, coalition politics does not appear to have been good for public engagement.
"Only a quarter of the population is satisfied with our system of governing, which must raise questions about the long-term capacity of that system to command public support and confidence in the future."
The full report is available to download here.
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