Parliament at night

Audit of Political Engagement 8

Audit of Political Engagement 8 (2011)Willingness to get involved locally poses challenge for Big Society: only one in 10 people will ‘definitely’ volunteer

The latest Audit of Political Engagement shows that while the momentous political events of 2010 increased the public’s interest in politics to a record 58%, there was no matching rise in political or civic activity.

Beyond voting, people were no more likely to get involved or participate in politics than they are in non-election years.

  • 58%  claim to be interested in politics (up 5 points)
  • 53% claim to be ‘knowledgeable’ about politics (up 2 points)

People express more interest in how things work locally than in politics in general (although their knowledge about how things work locally is less than their knowledge about politics in general) and are more likely to think that getting involved is effective at a local level.

  • 69% are interested in how things work locally
  • 46% say they are knowledgeable about how things work locally (compared to 53% who say they are knowledgeable about politics in general)
  • 49% believe things work well locally (compared to just 30% who believe things work well nationally)
  • 51% say getting involved locally can change their area (compared to just 30% who say getting involved in politics can change the way the UK is run)

But only one in 10 people say they will ‘definitely’ spend some time doing some form of voluntary work at some point in the next couple of years. Those most likely to spend time volunteering are: under 45 (particularly those aged 25-34); in the highest social grades (ABC1); have children; and tend to vote Liberal Democrat.

Overwhelmingly, motivation to volunteer and get involved seems to be rooted in a sense of personal self-interest. People are more likely to get involved in their local community ‘if I felt strongly about an issue’ (40%), ‘if it was relevant to me’ (33%), ‘if I had more time’ (28%), and ‘if it affected my street’ (25%).

The Audit identifies ‘Willing Localists’ (14% of the population) as the key target for the success of the Big Society. They are not actively involved in a wide range of community and socio-political activities but seem the most willing and realistically likely to become involved in the future.

The Audit research also examines public attitudes to Parliament. While the public’s knowledge of Parliament has increased, satisfaction has decreased.

  • 44% ‘knowledgeable’ about Parliament (7 point increase)
  • 27% satisfied with Parliament (6 point decrease)
  • 30% agree that ‘Parliament is working for you and me’ (8 point decrease)

Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme, and co-author of the report commented:

‘The momentous events surrounding the election and its aftermath has left people feeling more interested in and knowledgeable about politics. But they have not been roused to get more involved in it – the majority prefer to remain spectators.

Even at the local community level only one in 10 say they are certain to volunteer. People say they are interested in being more engaged locally but on the whole are not willing to actually commit to activities. They are not very altruistic. It’s self-interest that motivates them to action: when an issue affects them or their community in a personal way.

This raises interesting questions for the development of the Big Society. A clear focus on the local and the personal is where the Big Society has the greatest chance of succeeding. The concept needs to avoid political associations, focus on the local and personal, and emphasise ‘community’ rather than ‘Society’. Given that the public are less knowledgeable about how things work locally than they are nationally a strategy to address this knowledge deficit is also needed.’

To download a copy of Audit 8, 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 8 is available to download here.* The raw data for all the Audits is available in SPSS format from the UK Data Archive.

Audit 8 was funded by the House of Commons and the Cabinet Office.


* Particularly bad weather in Scotland made interview recruitment in line with the quotas difficult in December 2010, and so additional interviews were conducted in Scotland in January 2011, outside the normal Audit reporting timescale of November/December each year, to supplement the numbers. Data from these additional interviews was only used in relation to figures for Scotland quoted in the Audit report, and do not form part of the headline figures. Data tables including these supplementary interviews can be found here.


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