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What is political disengagement?

People are politically disengaged if they do not know, value or participate in the democratic process. Research suggests that while some people are unhappy with the way democracy functions and would like to have more opportunities to participate, others share their unhappiness but do not want more involvement. In the UK, political disengagement takes different forms and is more prevalent among certain groups than others.

This briefing looks at the characteristics associated with indicators of political disengagement: selected political attitudes; participation in political activities; electoral registration; voting; and elected councillors, candidates and MPs.

Data is taken from surveys carried out by the British Election Study team, Ipsos Mori, the Electoral Commission and others and estimates are shown in charts in this briefing. The true value is likely to fall within a range around the figures. Below is a summary of the sections in the briefing, which include references to these sources. 

Age and political disengagement

Young people are less likely to register to vote, to vote and be elected, but older people tend to have more negative attitudes about politics and participate less in selected political activities. The average age of MPs has been around 50 for the last decades.

Ethnicity and political disengagement

People from minority ethnic groups were less likely to be registered to vote, turnout to vote and be elected. People from White ethnic groups were more likely to have negative attitudes to politics. 

Social grade and political disengagement

Unskilled workers and people classed as long-term unemployed were more politically disengaged than people from other occupational backgrounds, as measured against all the indicators included in this paper.

Not much is known about the socio-economic backgrounds of councillors, candidates and MPs, although the number of MPs from a lower-skilled background has decreased in recent years.

Gender and political disengagement

Women tend to have more negative attitudes towards politics than men, and to be less likely to participate in political activities. Men and women are equally likely to register to vote and – usually – to vote, although women were less likely to vote at the 2019 General Election. Women are underrepresented in local government and Parliament.

Disabilities and political disengagement

People with disabilities have more negative attitudes to politics than people without disabilities. People with disabilities that limit their activities a little (rather than a lot) are more likely to engage in political activities and to vote. People with disabilities are underrepresented in local government and Parliament.

The Government has used a variety of measures to encourage greater political engagement among different groups in the UK.

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