Audit of Political Engagement 5

Despite 2007's political turbulence, public engagement in politics continues to decline

Despite 2007's political turbulence, public engagement in politics continues to decline

2007 was a vintage year for political events and drama. The UK had a new Prime Minister for the first time in ten years, and for some months the possibility of a snap General Election was widely discussed. Scotland and Northern Ireland acquired new First Ministers, the leader of the Liberal Democrats resigned triggering a close contest to become his successor, and there were high profile controversies regarding the Government's handling of the crisis at Northern Rock bank, the loss of data containing private details of almost half of the UK's population, as well as on the funding of the Labour Party.

Despite many of these issues and the associated widespread publicity occurring before and during fieldwork for the latest Audit of Political Engagement, there is no sign of a corresponding increase in political engagement among the public. Interest and knowledge of politics are both down on the previous year (interest having peaked in 2005 after the last General Election), while other indicators of engagement such as propensity to vote or to discuss politics have not changed significantly from 2006.

These results will be worrying for politicians of all parties, and may indicate that the public's disengagement from traditional politics is even more entrenched than first believed.

There has also been a steady decline over recent years in the proportion of the British public who agree that they can 'change the way the country is run when they get involved in politics', with 31% now feeling this way compared to 37% in 2003. There are partisan divisions here, with Conservative supporters more likely to feel powerlessness than Labour supporters (which likely reflects Labour as the incumbent government).

Similarly, there has also been a steady decrease in the proportion of the British public who think that the present system of governing Britain works well (from 36% in 2003 to 32% now). Those who think that the system requires a 'great deal of improvement' has increased from 18% to 24% in this time.

Little clamour for electoral change, though there are some concerns

For the first time, this year's Audit of Political Engagement includes indicators measuring knowledge, satisfaction and prioritisation of a series of constitutional issues.

Many of the public reveal themselves to be more concerned with outcomes than processes, in that for none of the eleven constitutional issues do more than half of the public understand the issue well. The public are most likely to understand those issues to do with voting in a General Election, such as how votes translate to seats at a General Election (49% say they understand this well) and the minimum voting age (48%). This is not surprising given that this is the stage where most of the public have direct contact with the constitutional workings.

However, just over one in five say that they understand the powers that government can currently exercise without Parliament's approval (22%), and one in four say they understand proposed reforms of the membership of the House of Lords (26%).

In terms of public satisfaction with current policies, the public are most likely to be satisfied with the minimum voting age (67% are satisfied), how votes translate into seats (35%) and letting the government decide the date of a General Election (39%). There appears to be little public momentum behind reform of the voting age, voting system or Parliamentary terms (even among those who are unhappy with the system overall).

The public are broadly split in their views on the EU and Human Rights Act, and are most likely to be dissatisfied with Scottish MPs being able to vote on English issues (46% are dissatisfied with this) the composition of the House of Lords (36% dissatisfied), the powers of the government to act without the approval of Parliament (32% dissatisfied) and party funding (37% dissatisfied). As with many of the topics covered in this research, we find some partisan divisions with Labour supporters more likely to be satisfied with current policies than supporters of other parties.

Survey details

  • The Audit of Political Engagement is an annual survey measuring the nature and extent of political engagement among British adults, commissioned by the Hansard Society.
  • After five years, the Audit of Political Engagement is well-established as a unique and highly important research report informing national debate about public engagement with Parliament and politics and encouraging further analysis and action. The annual survey holds up a 'mirror' to Parliament and politicians and provides analysis and commentary in a single 'go-to' place.
  • The Audits include a series of six key indicators which are measured annually, so to indicate the degree to which attitudes and behaviour change year-on-year. These indicators include likelihood of voting in the next General Election, interest in and perceived knowledge about politics, as well as participation in a range of activities. A variety of other electoral and engagement issues are also covered in each annual Audit.
  • Audit of Political Engagement 5 (APE 5) results are based on 1,073 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain. Interviewed face-to-face in home between 29 November - 7 December 2007.
  • Where applicable trend data from the Audit of Political Engagement 1, 2, 3 and 4 are included, as well as from our State of the Nation research for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
  • Audit of Political Engagement 1 (APE 1) results are based on interviews conducted face-to-face with 1,913 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain between 11-17 December 2003.
  • Audit of Political Engagement 2 (APE 2) results are based on interviews conducted face-to-face with 2,003 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain between 2-6 December 2004.
  • Audit of Political Engagement 3 (APE 3) results are based on 1,142 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain. Interviewed face-to-face in home between 1-5 December 2005.
  • Audit of Political Engagement 4 (APE 4) topline results are based on 1,282 adults aged 18+ in the Great Britain. Interviewed face-to-face in home between 23-28 November 2006.
  • For State of the Nation MORI interviewed 1,758 adults across Great Britain face-to-face between 21 April - 8 May 1995, and 1,547 adults aged 18+ in Great Britain between 7-25 March 1991.
  • Results are based on all respondents unless otherwise stated.
  • Data are weighted to the profile of the population.
  • An asterisk (*) indicates a finding of less than 0.5% but greater than zero.
  • Where percentages do not add up to exactly 100% this is due to computer rounding, the exclusion of "don't knows" or to multiple answers

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