Headlines: March 1st, 2005

A report published today shows most people want to have a say in how the country is run but many of them doubt that political participation is the best way to do so. The second annual Audit of Political Engagement from the Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society shows, though, that last June’s local council elections saw a sharp rise in interest in politics.The report finds that two-thirds of people aspire to having a say in how the country is governed and managed, but only 27 per cent currently feel that they do have any impact. Voter frustration revealed in a MORI survey for the ‘Audit’ is reflected in the survey’s findings that less than half of people – 45 per cent – believe they know a fair amount or more better about politics and only slightly more than half – 53 per cent – find it of any interest.

Only 52 per cent of the electorate says they are ‘absolutely certain’ to vote at an immediate General Election and the reports shows that political activism is a minority pursuit. It counters claims of political apathy, however, by revealing that just over three quarters of people claim to be interested in national issues. Interest in local issues is even higher at 81 per cent.

The report’s authors say that although the ‘Audit’ found little change in attitudes towards politics year-on-year, there have been occasions in the last twelve months when the country’s political pulse has quickened. They point especially to last June’s elections when, they say, both interest in politics and the propensity to vote increased sharply. They claim that this shows political engagement is changing and, more importantly, is changeable, which suggests that political engagement can be stimulated when an election campaign captures public imagination.

Sam Younger, Chairman of The Electoral Commission, said many people who claimed no interest in politics did so because of their own interpretation of the concept. When they were asked about issues that affected them, their families or the world around them, they had strong opinions. “Whilst there is no silver bullet solution, those working to quicken the nation’s political heartbeat in what might be an election year need to make convincing connections between voting and the issues of most concern to voters,” he said.”

Lord Holme, the Chairman of the Hansard Society, said political parties, and all those working to increase political participation, needed to convince the public that politics matter and that voting was the best means to fulfil their clear ambition to have a say in the running of the country.