The election effect
Interest in and knowledge of politics has risen by eight percentage points from last year. The number claiming to be a strong supporter of a political party has risen by 11 points to 41%, the highest level recorded in the Audit series. And 59% say they are now certain to vote (scoring 10 out of 10) in the event of an election, 10 points higher than last year. Certainty to vote and support for a political party have increased generally, especially amongst younger groups (18-34s). But the rise is particularly marked among the youngest 18-24 age group where 38% now say they are a strong supporter of a political party compared to 13% last year, and 39% say they would be certain to vote whereas just 16% said the same 12 months ago. Nonetheless, younger people generally remain much less engaged than older, more affluent groups. Previous post-election increases in engagement recorded in Audits 3 and 8 have quickly subsided in the non-election years that followed. It remains to be seen whether these improvements will therefore be sustained.
As the country faces one of the biggest political decisions in decades, 63% of the public say they are interested in issues to do with the European Union. But just 38% feel knowledgeable about the EU - although this is considerably higher than the 24% who said the same at the start of the Audit series 13 years ago. 69% think that the system of governing the EU needs ‘a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of improvement. 75% agree that important questions should be determined by referendums more often than today. 59% say they are ‘certain’ to vote in the referendum (scoring 10 out of 10) and a further 19% are ‘likely’ to vote (scoring 6-9). Those who say they are ‘certain’ to vote are more likely to think that the way the EU is governed needs a great deal of improvement than those who are not certain to. In order to vote citizens have to be on the electoral register, but 10% of the public think they are not registered.
Perceptions of Parliament
For the first time in the Audit series, a majority of people (52%) claim to be knowledgeable about the UK Parliament. And 73% agree that it is ‘essential to our democracy’ – up 12 points in a year. However, only 32% are satisfied with how Parliament works and just 29% are satisfied with how MPs generally do their job, although 35% are content with how their own local MP does their job. 58% think that Parliament debates and makes decisions about issues that matter to them, an increase of 10 points from last year, but only 42% think it holds the government to account, although this is a seven point increase on last year. And just 28% agree that Parliament encourages public involvement in politics. Contacting an MP or Peer and signing an e-petition are by some distance the most popular ways the public would engage with Parliament in the future if they felt strongly about an issue.
Prime Minister's Questions
Public perceptions remain overwhelmingly negative and when PMQs does appeal to citizens it does so at a rational rather than an emotional level. 38% agree that it is informative and 45% that it deals with important issues, but just 22% think it is exciting to watch and only 17% say it makes them proud of Parliament. 69% say there is too much party political point scoring, 50% consider it too noisy and aggressive, and just 18% believe MPs behave professionally. A third of people (32%) say it puts them off politics. However, those who have seen PMQs in full are less likely to say it puts them off politics (28%) than those who have seen it only in edited clip form (35%). More people now feel that important issues facing the country are being dealt with than two years ago. It is not possible to directly attribute this to Jeremy Corbyn’s new ‘People’s Question Time’ approach and, this aspect apart, people continue to be as negatively disposed to the culture and performance of PMQs as two years ago.
Dissatisfaction and disempowerment
Only a third of the public think the system by which Britain is governed works well (33%) with those living furthest from Westminster most likely to be dissatisfied. Just 35% believe that when people like themselves get involved in politics they can change the way the country is run. Only 13% feel they have some influence over decision-making nationally although 41% would like to be involved in decision-making. More people (46%) would like to be involved in local decisions but just 25% currently feel they have some influence at the local level. With a few exceptions, the proportion of people that report having undertaken some form of political activity to influence decisions, laws or policies in the last 12 months has remained broadly stable. For those who would be willing to undertake an action in the future, the most popular activities are the most direct: vote in an election, contact an elected representative, and sign a petition.
Inequalities in engagement
Generally, the most politically engaged in the Audit series tend to be male, older, white, higher educated, affluent, home-owning citizens. The social class gap in electoral participation continues to rise: there is now a 37 percentage point difference between the certainty to vote levels of those in social classes AB and DE, an increase of 6 points in 12 months. However, the gap between the social classes tends to be much smaller in relation to questions about satisfaction with politics and institutions. Younger people (aged 18-24) are also more likely to be satisfied with the politics and institutions of our political system, and have a greater sense of their own potential to influence it than are other more generally engaged groups. This is also true of BME adults, although they are much less likely to say they have actually undertaken some form of political action than white adults in the last year.