Turnout/Disillusion and Apathy

For political journalists, “Brenda from Bristol” remains a symbol of the public mood – “I can’t stand this – there’s too much politics going on at the moment,” she said when Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017. Knocking on Brenda’s door has become a strange new ritual for political journalists whenever new elections are rumoured. 

Turnout in UK elections 

Turnout 2019     67.3% 

Participation crisis 

There is a widely held view that the UK's democratic system suffers due to a lack of engagement with the political system among a significant section of the population.

Voter turnout

This is one of the most obvious measures of participation. Falling turnout is important because it means that governments are elected on a reduced share of the popular vote, which casts doubt on the strength of their mandate.

The average turnout at general elections from 1945 to 1997 was 76 per cent. Since then it has been lower. The percentage for 2001 was the lowest since the end of the First World War in 1918. There has been a modest recovery at the last two general elections, although it is still some way from the levels seen at most post-war contests.

Turnout is even lower, as a rule, in so-called 'second order' elections, such as those for the devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This may be because voters see these less powerful bodies as unlikely to make a major difference to their lives.

In spite of publicity encouraging people to vote, the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012 had the lowest average turnout at any UK contest, at 15 per cent. Voters did not fully understand the purpose of these elected individuals. There was a slight improvement to 26 per cent in the 2016 elections.

Since the 1992 general election – when 77.7 per cent of the population voted – voter turnout has decreased and remained low. This decrease coincides with the rise of the internet. Nowadays, more and more people consume information through ‘social media echo chambers’, rather than reading daily newspaper headlines or tuning in to the 10 o’clock news 

Evidence of disillusion

2019 Audit of Political Engagement The Hansard Society conducts an annual survey. It shows increasing disengagement and increasing criticism of politics. In 2019 it showed the growing attraction of populist 'strong leaders.

'Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that ‘Britain’s system of government is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful’. It is unsurprising that the ‘rigged system’ narrative caught fire in the United States, where money in politics is highly visible: yet the UK’s very different system is judged in much the same way.' 

'The most headline-grabbing finding from the Audit was that, by a margin of 54–23, Britons agree that the country needs ‘a strong leader who is willing to break the rules’. The support for a ‘strong leader’, with its echoes of Rodrigo Duterte, Nicolás Maduro and Vladimir Putin, is disquieting'.  UK citizens had a high regard for the army.

'Roughly a third of people say they do not want to be involved ‘at all’ in either local or national decision-making: a rise of nearly 10% since last year'

The survey also suggest that the majority of people have little or no interest in any kind of political participation