Political engagement

Chapter summary: Political engagement

Bridging the gulf? Britain’s democracy after the 2010 election

Turnout increased somewhat in the 2010 election (up four points from 2005, to 65%), but was still relatively low by historical standards. This was despite, among other things, the introduction of televised leaders’ debates and much greater use of the internet in political campaigning. This chapter examines the health of Britain’s democracy in the wake of these developments, looking in particular at whether politicians were more effective in 2010 at reaching out to those who are least engaged in politics.

The small rise in turnout in 2010 masks some deeper problems concerning people’s motivation to vote.

  • Only 20% trust British governments to put the interests of the nation above those of
    their own political party at least most of the time, down from 33% in 1997 and 47% in 1987. One in five (18%) now say it is not worth voting, up from 3% in 1987.
  • There is no consistent evidence that those with least motivation to vote were particularly likely to return to the ballot box. At 33 points, the difference in turnout between those with most and least interest in politics was still much higher than in 1997 (20 points).

While relatively popular, the innovations of the 2010 election campaign – televised leaders’ debates and more online campaign activities – were not particularly successful at reaching out to the less engaged.

  • Half (51%) watched the televised leaders’ debates, making them one of the most
    popular ways of following the campaign. However the debates appealed primarily
    to those interested in politics, 74% of whom watched compared with 26% of those with little or no interest in politics.
  • Three in ten (31%) took part in some form of digital election campaign activity, up from just 13% in 2005. However the increase was much greater (from 34% to 65%) among those interested in politics than it was among those without much interest (from 9% to 21%).

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