The annual Audit of Political Engagement carried out by the Hansard Society measures the nature and extent of political engagement and reveals where views have changed – and where they remain constant. It offers a yearly snapshot of political knowledge and engagement in Britain.
This year’s Audit shows that while the MPs’ expenses scandal has affected the public’s satisfaction with and perception of MPs and the Westminster Parliament, there has not been a collapse of trust in politicians or politics.
Most significantly, there has been a big decline since the first Audit in 2004 in the perceived impact of the Westminster Parliament on people’s lives, compared to other institutions. Only 19% think Parliament is one of the top three influential institutions on their everyday lives – an 11% drop from 2004. But 60% still think Parliament is ‘worthwhile’, compared to only 14% who disagree.
There has been no overall collapse of trust in politicians – 26% say they trust politicians generally compared to 27% in 2004 and 73% say they distrust politicians compared to 70% in 2004. Because levels of trust were already low, the MPs’ expenses scandal merely confirmed and hardened the public’s widely held scepticism about politicians rather than changed their views.
Public dissatisfaction with how MPs in general do their jobs has risen by 8% since 2004 – from 36% to 44% – but dissatisfaction with how individual MPs do their job has risen by only 3% – from 13% to 16%. Twice as many people (38%) are satisfied with the way that their own MP does his/her job than are dissatisfied.
While 71% of people say they have discussed MPs’ expenses in the last year, only 41% say they have discussed politics or political news. The gap between these figures raises questions as to why people do not regard MPs’ expenses as a ‘political’ issue and may go some way towards explaining why the MPs’ expenses scandal has had such mixed results in terms of trust and satisfaction with MPs and Parliament.
The report also looked at public attitudes to voting: 76% say it is their duty to vote, but only 54% say they are absolutely certain to vote in the general election. Using statistical techniques the Audit divides the public into eight segments and looks at the ‘voting gap’ for each group – the difference between each group’s ‘duty to vote’ and their ‘certainty to vote’. The Audit concludes that if the gap between ‘duty to vote’ and ‘certainty to vote’ could be narrowed for these groups, electoral turnout might increase by approximately 6% overall.
Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme, commented: ‘There is no silver bullet to resolve the public’s lack of trust in MPs and dissatisfaction with how they do their jobs. The public have long been sceptical about the motives of politicians and the expenses situation has merely confirmed their views. But the fact that the public now perceive Parliament to be a less relevant institution than previously is a worrying development that the new intake of MPs after the election must address.’
‘Our research suggests that part of the solution may lie in a long term commitment to improve public knowledge about how Parliament and our political system works. The Audit demonstrates that increased familiarity leads to improved favourability. The Audit results this year, as in previous years, reveal the complex nature of public attitudes to politics and political engagement and how, at times, they point in contradictory directions.’
To download a copy of Audit 7, click here.
For more information about the Audit of Political Engagement series, click here. The tabulated survey data from the opinion polling carried out by Ipsos MORI for Audit 7 is available to download here. The raw data for all the Audits is available in SPSS format from the UK Data Archive.
Audit 7 was funded by the House of Commons and the Ministry of Justice.
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