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Interest in politics across generations at an all-time high

21 March 2018 | Tags: voting, General Election, Politics, Brexit, Conservatives, Labour

The British public is more interested in politics than at any time since 1991, reveals a previewed chapter in the new British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, authored by Sir John Curtice.

This fits with the fact that turnout at the 2017 General Election was at its highest level since 1997, and The National Centre for Social Research’s BSA data can now reveal what kinds of social attitudes caused this process

One likely driver of change was the number of people who, in 2017, said that they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of interest in politics. In 2015, 36% of people felt this way, which was, at the time, a record high (data has been collected on this question since 1991).However, by 2017, this number had climbed again to 43%. This increase in engagement is an obvious driver of high turnouts.


A meaningful choice

Another factor likely to impact turnout is the extent to which people feel that they have a meaningful choice to make at the ballot box. In 2017, 45% felt that there was a “great difference” between the Conservative and Labour parties, which was up from 27% in 2015, and from a low of just 13% in 2005.


Did this increase in turnout benefit Labour?

There was speculation last summer that Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected performance had been caused by a so-called “youth-quake”. And it does seem as though the collapse in turnout among 18-24 year olds that occurred between 1997 and 2005 (61% to 40%), does seem to have recovered from.

However, much of this recovery had already occurred by 2015, and the stats suggest that whilst there was a 5% increase in voting amongst 18-24 year-olds this time around, this was broadly in line with the rest of the population. There was a 4% increase in turnout among 45-54 year olds, and a 3% increase among the over 65s.

Perhaps the clearest indication of how the increase in turnout in this election was not something that benefited Labour comes from the BSA’s analysis of turnout among people who “identify” with different parties. 80% of people who “identify” with the Labour party actually turned out in 2017, and this represented a 4% rise from 2015. However, among those who “identified” with the Conservative party, turnout was 88%, and this too represented a rise, of 2% from 2015.

Professor Sir John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research said: “Claims that the 2017 election saw a dramatic increase in turnout amongst young voters are wide of the mark. However, what is true is that the marked drop in turnout amongst young voters that was observed at the turn of the century is no longer in evidence. Fears that democracy in Britain was at risk of losing a whole generation of voters now look as though they have not been fulfilled.”

“If anything, voters in Britain are showing greater interest in politics than they have done at any point in the last 25 years.  Perhaps the intense debates over Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party have served to persuade voters that politics does matter after all.’


Read the full analysis here.