The Audit of Political Engagement is a unique study, providing the only annual health check on our democratic system. Based on an annual public opinion poll, the Audit provides a yearly benchmark to measure political engagement in Great Britain, gauging public opinion vis-à-vis politics and the political system and more broadly the health of our democracy. The study focuses on political engagement in the broadest sense, exploring the public’s knowledge and understanding of politics and democracy, their degree of involvement and participation in it (locally and nationally), and their sense of the efficacy of and satisfaction with the system. The research often punctures widely-held myths about politics and raises challenging questions about public attitudes to the political process.
The Audit study was established a decade ago in response to growing concerns about low electoral turnout, as particularly evidenced at the 2001 general election, and the desire to explore political engagement beyond headline voter turnout statistics. In contrast to the snapshots provided by one-off polling, the Audit of Political Engagement provides contextualised statistics and comparative tracking on a longitudinal basis. It is this consistency, and the related ability to draw direct comparisons from year to year, that distinguishes the Audit from other individual, often sporadic pieces of research on the same subject. A key objective of the study has been to monitor levels of political engagement in a way that will provide data of practical use to help inform research design and active projects in the field of political and democratic engagement as well as acting as an independent resource for the wider interested policy community.
The Audit provides detailed commentary on a set of core indicators that have been chosen as key measures of political engagement. The indicators fall into three thematic areas:
- Knowledge and interest: (1) the percentage of people who feel that they know about politics; and (2) the percentage who report an interest in politics.
- Action and participation: (3) the percentage of people who report they are absolutely certain to vote at an immediate general election; and (4) the percentage who are politically active.
- Efficacy and satisfaction: (5) the percentage of people who believe that getting involved works; and (6) the percentage who think that the present system of governing works well.
Other topics covered in the Audit series include attitudes towards Parliament and MPs, the public’s desire for involvement in local and national decision-making, levels of volunteering and civil involvement, and their views on constitutional reform and media coverage of politics.
The Audit of Political Engagement is published annually by the Hansard Society in March/April. The first four Audits were published jointly by the Hansard Society and the Electoral Commission. Subsequent Audits have been published solely by the Hansard Society. Audits 5-7 were co-funded by the House of Commons and the Ministry of Justice. Subsequent Audits have been funded jointly by the House of Commons and the Cabinet Office.
Download the Audit reports and data.
The annual Audit is one of the most important and widely quoted reports produced by the Hansard Society, providing an indispensable factual background to debates about the public’s knowledge about politics, its degree of interest and willingness to participate. The data is widely quoted in written and oral evidence to parliamentary and political inquiries, is used by Members of both Houses in debate and by government departments to inform their policy-making (particularly the Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government). It is also heavily used by civil society stakeholders and campaign groups such as NCVO, Democratic Audit, and the Electoral Reform Society. The Audit is also utilised by many academics at home and abroad, particularly in the political science field, and is regularly cited in articles in established journals such as Parliamentary Affairs, Political Quarterly and the Journal of Legislative Studies.
Increasingly, the Audit has an international profile: it has, for example, been quoted during a speech on political reform by the Indian Vice-President and has been cited in evidence about public attitudes to politics in Time Magazine. The Audit is of great interest to the media and the launch of the last few reports has been covered by a wide range of national and international media including, for example, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, BBC Breakfast and the Daily Politics show, Granada TV, the World Tonight on the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera, ABC Radio’s drive-time programme in Australia, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Power and Politics current affairs TV programme. The BBC Trust also used the Audit to evidence public attitudes to politics in its recent review of BBC News and BBC Parliament.
Selected media coverage can be found below.
Reports and Data
The headline data for each Audit survey can be found at the end of each report. The raw data for each Audit survey is available in tabulated form (as PDFs) and in SPSS format from the links in the table below. The data from the first 10 Audit surveys has als0 been combined into a single SPSS data package.
The Audit data is also held and curated for use by other researchers at the UK Data Archive.
Please read the notes on data usage below.
Notes for data users:
- You are free to access, analyse and report on the Audit data, as long as you do not misrepresent the data and you acknowledge the source of the information.
- The sample for the first four Audit surveys was the whole of the UK (inc. Northern Ireland). Subsequent surveys have been GB only.
- The reported data has only been for adults aged 18+, although some of the datasets include responses from 16-17 year olds.
- Users should be careful to filter and weight the data correctly for their purposes. Weighting variables are present in all of the SPSS files.
- Users of the data are recommended to read the technical details for each survey they are using (found in Appendix A & B of each Audit report).
- Data reported in the Audits has generally been calculated to one decimal place and rounded accordingly, and percentages have been summed for ease of comprehension by non-specialist audiences. This may account for minor discrepancies between reported data and your own calculations.
Selected media coverage and other references
- Non Party Campaigning Ahead of Elections, Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, October 2013
- Party politics is slowly dying. So what will take its place?, Julian Coman, The Guardian, 8 September 2013.
- Slick marketing and hi-tech politics are leaving voters feeling cold, Sonia Sodha, The Guardian, 17 August 2013.
- Ways With Words 2013: TV election debates create ‘plausible tarts’, warns historian, Hannah Furness, Daily Telegraph, 6 July 2013.
- Party politics needs mending and quickly, The Observer, 2 June 2013.
- Politics and the young – Generation Boris, The Economist, 1 June 2013.
- The new suffragettes – unfinished business, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 27 May 2013.
- My grey matter says the grey vote is crucial, Frederick Forsyth, Daily Express, 24 May 2013.
- Apathy wins in Britain’s poll battle, David Stirling, Glasgow Evening Times, 21 May 2013.
- Turnips, bread-throwing and public weighing: the life of an MP, Isabel Hardman, Spectator, 17 May 2013.
- Have MPs learnt a thing since 2009? Their greed suggests not, Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2013.
- Three quarters of people ‘cannot name their local MP’, BBC News, 16 May 2013.
- Steep decline in number of Brits who can name their MP, Ruth Fox, Public Service Europe, 15 May 2013.
- Only 22% Of ‘Disenchanted’ Public Can Name Their MP, Amid Fears Of Record Low Turnout In 2015, Ned Simons, Huffington Post, 15 May 2013.