Today, the Hansard Society have published the 14th Audit of Political Engagement (co-funded by the House of Commons). This annual study provides valuable insights into the public’s attitudes to Parliament and British politics. We have updated our briefing on political engagement, combining figures from the Audit with other data, with a particular focus on differences in engagement between social groups.
The big picture
The Audit shows that the public see Parliament as essential to our democracy and are increasingly engaged with it, but a large proportion do not know much about Parliament, and are not satisfied with how it operates. Underneath the headline data, there are differences by age, class and other characteristics.
One of the most positive findings for Parliament is that a clear majority believes that it is essential “to our democracy” (73% – equaling 2016’s record score).
However, people do not think that parliament is doing a good job for them. Fewer than a third of people were satisfied with the way that parliament works, and not many more think parliament is doing a good job of representing their interests (38%).
Knowledge of parliament fell in the latest study; 45% claimed to know a great deal or a fair amount about parliament, down from 52% last year. This is similar to the level of knowledge about politics in general (49%) and the European Union (43%).
Increasing engagement with parliament
There were positive indicators around engagement with Parliament: overall just over half the public say they have engaged with Parliament in some way in the last year – a ten point increase from 2015. Also:
- The proportion of the public who report watching or listening to a parliamentary debate or committee meeting (online, on TV or on radio) has increased from 31% to 39%
- The number saying they have signed an e-petition is up from 15% to 22%
- 12% contacted an MP or Peer with their views.
Some if this could be down to the seismic political events of the past year – public interest in Brexit and high-profile e-petitions on topics like Donald Trump’s proposed state visit will have increased people’s appetite to engage.
Arguably the most positive indicator in the study is the score on certainty to vote. 59% of respondents said that they would be certain to vote in an immediate general election. This is the highest recorded score in the 14 years of the Audit (joint with 2016). We won’t have to wait long to see if this is borne out.
Engagement by age
The overall message of this year’s report could be “increasingly engaged, but not satisfied”. However, looking at the data for younger people, the picture is bleaker. Variables on engagement, knowledge and effectiveness all show lower scores for younger age groups.
Other data used within chapter 2 of our briefing on political engagement shows a similar pattern – in December 2015, 67% of 20-24 year olds were registered to vote, compared with 93% of 55-64 year olds. IPSOS-Mori estimate that turnout of 18-24 year olds was 43% at the 2015 General Election, compared with 77% for 55-64 year olds.
Arguably, the key indicator for engagement with politics and parliament is turnout at a general election. In 2015, turnout across the UK was 66%, slightly up on 2010, but still well below levels seen in the 20th Century.
The Audit provides some grounds for optimism; a record percentage were certain to vote. But again, this score varies significantly by age, from around two in five for 18-24 year olds, to four in five for over 65s. There are also large variations by social grade (ABs are most certain to vote), by qualification level and by income.
There will be many groups working to encourage participation in June’s general election; the challenge for them is not just whether they can increase overall turnout, but also whether they can increase participation among the young and other less politically engaged groups. If we accept that politics and Parliament are more effective when they represent the views of all constituents, Parliament too has a job to do encouraging everyone to register to vote. It is likely that if you are reading a Commons Library blog post you’re probably already going to vote in June, but perhaps someone you know isn’t. The deadline to register is 22nd May – please motivate someone you know to register and use their vote.
- Founded in 1944, the Hansard Society is a non-partisan research and education charity working in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments.
- The information in this year’s Audit of Political Engagement is based on a Political Engagement Poll undertaken by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Hansard Society. The findings are based on a total of 1,771 face-to-face interviews with adults aged 18+ conducted between 2 December 2016 and 15 January 2017, which have then been weighted to the national population profile of Great Britain. This is the 14th year of the Audit, which began in 2004.
- During the general election campaign, the Commons Library will not be publishing new briefings; Parliament’s Participation team will be encouraging people to register, to cast their vote on the 8 June and to continue to engage with Parliament following the election.