The Hansard Society’s ‘Audit of Political Engagement 11: the 2014 report’ is out now. Scroll down to read the key findings or download the full report.

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The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement is the only annual health check on British democracy. Now in its 11th year, the study measures the ‘political pulse’ of the nation, providing a unique benchmark to gauge public opinion with regard to politics and the political process. The project is kindly supported by the House of Commons and the Cabinet Office.

The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement is the only annual health check on British democracy. Now in its 11th year, the study measures the ‘political pulse’ of the nation, providing a unique benchmark to gauge public opinion with regard to politics and the political process. The project is kindly supported by the House of Commons and the Cabinet Office.


Key findings from the 2014 report

Key findings from the 2014 report

Levels of knowledge and interest in politics have improved this year, but the public continue to feel powerless. They feel that they have very little influence on decision-making and that their own involvement in politics will have little effect on the way the country is run. Although they claim to know more about it, the public are not yet convinced that Parliament makes a real difference in terms of holding government or others to account. And the results clearly demonstrate the level of public concern with the culture of politics and the extent to which they expect more from MPs’ conduct and accountability.

Levels of knowledge and interest in politics have improved this year, but the public continue to feel powerless. They feel that they have very little influence on decision-making and that their own involvement in politics will have little effect on the way the country is run. Although they claim to know more about it, the public are not yet convinced that Parliament makes a real difference in terms of holding government or others to account. And the results clearly demonstrate the level of public concern with the culture of politics and the extent to which they expect more from MPs’ conduct and accountability.

Knowledge and interest

50% claim that they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ interested in politics, mirroring the position in Audits 1 (50%) and 6 (52%), which were similarly conducted 18 months before the last two general elections. 50% of the public also claim either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of knowledge about politics, the third highest level recorded in the Audit series. And knowledge of Parliament is at the highest level recorded in the Audit with 48% claiming to know at least ‘a fair amount’.

Action and participation

67% agree that it is their ‘duty to vote in all types of elections’ but just 49% say they would be certain to vote in the event of an immediate general election. 30% consider themselves to be at least ‘a fairly strong’ supporter of a political party compared to 37% who said the same in Audit 4 (2007). Nearly half the public report having engaged in at least one of a list of 13 political and civic activities in the past year: 20% claim to have donated money to a charity or campaigning organisation; 16% to have created or signed a paper petition and 15% an e-petition; and 12% to have contacted an elected representative.

Eye icon (designed by Samuel Bednar from the Noun Project at http://thenounproject.com/samuelbednar/)

Efficacy and satisfaction

33% think that the system of governing in Britain works ‘extremely’ or ‘mainly’ well. This mirrors the third of the public who were satisfied with the system of government in Audit 6, but is a little lower than the 36% who said the same in Audit 1, both of which were similarly recorded 18 months prior to the 2010 and 2005 general elections respectively. But only 31% of the public agree that ‘when people like me get involved in politics, they really can change the way that the UK is run’.

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Political involvement locally and nationally

The public’s feeling that their own involvement in politics will have little effect on the way the country is run is buttressed by the view that they have very little influence on decision-making. Only 26% feel that they have at least ‘some’ influence locally and only 14% nationally. But the desire to actually be involved in decision-making, both locally (43%) and nationally (38%) continues to outpace their personal sense of efficacy and influence.

Attitudes to the European Parliament elections

67% agree that it is their ‘duty to vote in all types of elections’ but 61% believe their general election vote is simply ‘more important than their European one. Around three-quarters (77%) agree that ‘I know less about the issues in a European Parliament election than a general election’ and 71% agree that they ‘understand more about how general elections work than elections to the European Parliament’.

Parliament icon (Designed by Luke Anthony Firth at http://thenounproject.com/lukefirth/)

Perceptions of Parliament

The public’s view of the importance of Parliament remains stable seemingly regardless of circumstances: two-thirds consistently agree (67%) that Parliament is ‘essential to our democracy’. However, rather fewer (51%) agree that Parliament ‘debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to me’, 34% that Parliament ‘holds government to account’ and 23% that it ‘encourages public involvement in politics’.

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Attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions

MPs’ conduct at PMQs may act as a ‘cue’ for the public’s wider perceptions of Parliament. 67% agree that there is too much party political point-scoring, 47% that it is too noisy and aggressive, and only 16% think that MPs behave professionally. 33% of the public say it puts them off politics and only 12% say it makes them proud of Parliament. Consumption of PMQs may be linked to perceptions: those who report having seen it in full in the last year are more engaged by it than those who have seen only edited clips, but all share, almost equally, the negative perception of MPs’ behaviour.

Thoughts of MPs (icons of politicians designed by Pete Fecteau at http://thenounproject.com/buttonpresser)

MPs: perceptions and expectations

67% of the public say ‘politicians don’t understand the daily lives of people like me’. 45% agree that ‘most politicians go into politics because they want to make a positive difference in their community’ but 74% believe they ‘should be prepared to make personal sacrifices if they want to play a role in running the country’. Just 21% agree that ‘politicians are behaving in a more professional way than they were a few years ago’. But current MPs can at least take heart from the fact that 62% of the public recognise that politicians are not necessarily worse today than they were in the past, they just didn’t face the same media scrutiny.

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Holding MPs to account

86% think that politicians ‘should be expected to act according to a set of guidelines about their behaviour’ and 77% that they ‘should have to undertake regular ethics and standards training’. 42% of the public agree that ‘a right for constituents to ‘recall’ their MP if they have behaved badly, forcing an immediate election’ would be an effective way of holding politicians to account, and 34% say that this is an accountability measure they would be personally ‘most likely to pay attention to’. 44% of the public want all MPs to be required ‘to hold an open meeting where members of the public can question their MP at least twice a year’ and 39% say this is something they would pay attention to. MPs regularly hold a range of meetings with their constituents but much of this work goes on below the public’s radar. Consideration should therefore be given to introducing a nationwide People’s Question Time day twice a year at which time all MPs hold a Question Time style event in their constituency on the same day, supported by Parliament.

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