Parliament at night

Audit of Political Engagement 9: Part One

Audit of Political Engagement 9 - Part One (2012)Disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged: New Hansard Society research shows people turning away from national politics.

Is coalition politics bad for political engagement?

The 2012 Hansard Society annual Audit of Political Engagement, shows that the public’s growing sense of indifference to politics as highlighted in last year’s Audit has hardened into something more serious as public attitudes become more negative:

  • 42% say they are interested in politics (down 16 points, to the lowest level ever recorded in the nine-year Audit series)
  • Liberal Democrat supporters down 22 points to 50%
  • Conservative supporters down 8 points to 65%
  • Labour supporters down 12 points to 48%
  • 44% say they are knowledgeable about politics (down 9 points)
  • Liberal Democrat supporters down 15 points to 46%
  • Conservative supporters unchanged at 61%
  • Labour supporters down 11 points to 45%
  • 48% say they are ‘certain to vote’ in the event of an immediate general election (down 10 points to the lowest level ever recorded in the Audit series)
  • 30% say they are ‘unlikely’ or ‘absolutely certain not’ to vote (up 10 points)

The increased negativity of public attitudes in respect of key aspects of political engagement appears to be strongly linked to public attitudes to the current coalition government:

  • Only 24% think the system of governing works reasonably well (down 7 points)
  • Liberal Democrat supporters approval rate 29% (down 4 points)
  • Conservative supporters approval rate 56% (up 10 points)
  • Labour supporters approval rate 17% (down 13 points)

Respondents’ attitudes to Parliament were also examined. Knowledge levels generally have remained stable at 40%; and 66% of the public acknowledge the crucial part that Parliament plays in our democratic system. Less positively:

  • Only 49% agree that the issues debated and decided in Parliament have relevance to their own lives
  • Only 38% agree that the government is held to account by Parliament
  • Only 30% agree that Parliament encourages public involvement in politics

The Audit continues to track the public’s appetite for involvement in actual decision-making both locally and nationally:

  • 56% agree that their involvement in their local community could bring about change; only 32% say the same about involvement in national politics.
  • However, only 38% actually want to be involved in local decision-making, and 33% involved in national decision-making.
  • There has been a striking decline over the past two years in the proportion of the public undertaking voluntary work. This has dropped by eight percentage points (from 29% in Audit 7 (2010) to 21% today) – a worrying development for proponents of the Big Society agenda.

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

‘2011 was one of the most turbulent and momentous years in recent history. But it appears that the economic crisis, the summer riots and phone hacking did not lead to any greater interest in or knowledge of politics. The public seem to be disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged. Thus far, coalition politics does not appear to have been good for public engagement. Worryingly, only a quarter of the population are satisfied with our system of governing, which must raise questions about the long-term capacity of that system to command public support and confidence in the future.’

Download Audit of Political Engagement 9 – Part One (2012).

More about the Audit of Political Engagement series.


The information in the Audit of Political Engagement 9, Part One is based on a Political Engagement Poll undertaken by TNS-BMRB on behalf of the Hansard Society. The findings are based on a total of 1,163 interviews conducted between 7 and 13 December 2011, which have then been weighted to the national population profile of Great Britain. Findings in relation to three questions about political participation are based on 1,235 interviews conducted in January 2012.

The data for Audit 9 is available on the main Audit of Political Engagement page, and copies of the SPSS packages are lodged with the UK Data Archive following publication.

Audit 9, Part Two, which explores public attitudes to the media and politics and democracy, will be published later in 2012.

In addition to the quantitative opinion poll survey, Audit 9, Part One draws on the findings of 14 focus groups held across the country between November 2011 and March 2012 exploring public attitudes to politics and the democratic process. This project, Anti-Politics: Characterising and Accounting for Political Disaffection, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. As part of this work, Professor Gerry Stoker of the University of Southampton presented a short paper entitled Reforming Politics: Citizens’ Priorities at the Audit launch event which outlined the public’s priorities for political and democratic reform.


Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for updates on our latest research, publications, services and events

Subscribe here