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Political disengagement in the UK: who is disengaged?

Published Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Commons Library Briefing Paper provides information about which groups in the UK are considered to be politically disengaged, and why. This paper will use the term ‘political disengagement’ to capture certain behaviours and attitudes towards the political system. It uses a range of different sources, which are referenced in the PDF.

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What is political disengagement?

People are politically disengaged if they do not know, value or participate in the democratic process. In the UK, political disengagement is more prevalent among certain groups than others. This paper considers which groups are considered to be politically disengaged, and why. 

Political disengagement can take different forms. This paper includes information on political attitudes that indicate political disengagement; levels of participation in political activities; political party membership; electoral registration; voting; and the number of councillors, candidates and MPs drawn from particular groups.

Young People

Young people reported lower levels of knowledge about politics than other age groups, but were more likely to think the UK’s political system is responsive to their interests. They were less likely than other age groups to participate in political activities, to be on the electoral register, and to vote. The average age of councillors, candidates and MPs is over 50.

Ethnic minorities

Ethnic minorities were more likely to be satisfied with democracy in the UK than white people, but reported lower levels of knowledge about politics and participation in political activities. Ethnic minorities were less likely to be on the electoral register, although this is likely to be explained by factors other than their ethnicity, and to vote. Councillors, candidates and MPs are disproportionately white.

Unskilled workers and the long-tern unemployed

Unskilled workers and the long-term unemployed reported lower levels of political knowledge, satisfaction with democracy, and participation in political activities than people from other occupational backgrounds. They were also less likely to be on the electoral register and to vote. Not much is known about the socio-economic backgrounds of councillors, candidates and MPs, although around three-quarters of MPs are university education, one-third went to fee paying school and a declining number are former manual workers.

Women and men

Women are less likely to report a fair amount of knowledge about politics than men, but equally likely to be satisfied with the current system of governing. They are more likely to be included on the electoral register, and as likely to vote. Women are underrepresented among councillors, candidates and MPs.

People with disabilities

Disabilities take different forms that may impact differently upon political engagement. Overall, people with disabilities were as likely to have participated in political activities as people without disabilities, but people with physical disabilities were more likely to be included on the electoral register than any other group. Research suggests that people with disabilities are less likely to vote. Councillors were more likely to report having a disability than MPs.

Overseas voters

Only a small proportion of overseas voters is estimated to be included on the electoral register (and consequently, able to vote). However, the number has increased considerably since the EU referendum.

Geography

Attitudes towards democracy in the UK vary across the country. In Scotland, people were more likely than people in Wales, England and Northern Ireland to have participated in political activities, and to be on the electoral register (although differences exist between regions). Scottish voters were also more likely to have voted in the 2015 General Election.

The Government has used a variety of measures to address different forms of political disengagement in the UK.

 

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7501

Authors: Vyara Apostolova; Elise Uberoi; Neil Johnston

Topics: Elections, Parliament

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