Audit of Political Engagement

The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement is the only annual health check on British democracy. Now in its 12th 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.

Audit 12 [pdf]

Key findings

In advance of what is widely tipped to be one of the most closely fought general elections in recent times one might expect that citizens would be showing signs of being more politically engaged than in recent years. But in fact the public mood remains disillusioned and disengaged, with many indicators of engagement stuck in the doldrums. A notable exception is Scotland where the referendum appears to have sparked an increase in political engagement.

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Certainty to vote

Just 49% say they are certain to vote in the event of an immediate general election. This has not changed since last year’s Audit despite the proximity of a tightly fought general election. The number of people saying they would be prepared to vote in the event of an election if they felt strongly about an issue has declined to 35%. Online voting is the most popular reform (45%) to encourage more people to participate in elections.

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18 – 24 year olds

Just 16% say they are certain to vote in an election and 30% say they are certain not to vote. They are more likely to support online voting than older age groups, but they are less supportive of votes at 16 than those aged 25-54. Only 22% say they have undertaken a political activity in the last year but 58% say they would be prepared to do something if they felt strongly enough about an issue.

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Scotland – a referendum effect?

Scots are much more certain to vote than other parts of the country (72% -vs- 49%). They are more interested in politics (62% -vs- 49%) and more knowledgeable about it (56% -vs- 47%). They are much more likely to say that if they get involved in politics they can change the way the country is run. However, they are also more likely to think our system of governing needs improvement and just 14% feel influential over national decision-making.

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Party support

Just 30% claim to be a strong supporter of a political party and Scots are more likely to say this than respondents in other parts of the UK. But only 76% of those who say they are a strong supporter of a party are certain to vote. Three-quarters of those who say they support the Conservatives (74%) or UKIP (75%) say they are certain to vote compared to just 64% of Lib Dem and 52% of Labour supporters.

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Electoral registration

The number of people who believe themselves to be registered to vote has declined from 90% in Audit 11 to 82% in this latest study. And almost double the number of respondents say they are not registered to vote (15% compared to 8% in Audit 11). The decline in reported registration is seen most significantly in those aged under 35; 28% claim not to be registered compared to 18% in the last Audit.

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Local influence

Just 20% say that they feel at least ‘some influence’ over local decision-making. This indicator has declined six percentage points and now stands at the lowest level ever recorded in the Audit series. This decline in perceived influence is particularly marked among older respondents age 55 and above. Mirroring this decline in perceived influence, fewer people also want to be involved in decision-making in their local area, declining five percentage points to 38%.

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Satisfaction with the system

Only 61% say that Parliament is ‘essential to our democracy’, a decline of six percentage points. Sixty- eight percent think that our system of governing needs improvement and 58% that our democracy does not address their interests or those of their family. Just 18% think that the standards of conduct of public office holders are high. Fifty-nine percent are confident that the media will uncover wrongdoing but only a third are confident that wrongdoing will be uncovered and punished by the authorities.

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A hung Parliament?

By a slim margin the public would prefer a second election if there is a hung Parliament after the general election; 32% want this, 27% want a coalition, and 23% a minority government. Nearly two in 10 people (18%) do not know which option they would prefer. This suggests six in 10 people (59%) would prefer a stronger government (through an overall majority or coalition) than a weaker government that might nonetheless stay true to its manifesto commitments (23%).