Research by Professor Gerry Stoker and Dr Will Jennings has been showcased in the ESRC’s annual magazine Britain in 2013, now available at WH Smith High Street and Travel shops, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, and Boots.
In his research on citizens’ attitudes towards politics, Gerry Stoker observes that there are good reasons for thinking that citizens might not be fixed in their interest in politics. If they thought it as more open they might be drawn in because their voice would count. Alternatively if they thought it was getting worse in its domination by self-serving interests then frustration with what is going could lead to engagement. Survey evidence (in work conducted with Colin Hay at Sheffield University and the Hansard Society) was used to test these positive and negative triggers. It found that just over half were fixed in their preferences. But that of course means half of citizens could be persuaded to shift to greater interest in politics, with the positive trigger outperforming the negative trigger by a ratio of 2:1. Noteworthy also was that younger people were more responsive to both triggers than older age groups. The wider research on which the study is drawn is reported in a PSA conference paper here.
Will Jennings’ research with Dr Jane Green (University of Manchester) considers how the public evaluates political parties on the key criterion of competence. It reveals how public opinion about party competence changes over time and considers the trigger factors that shape gains and losses. Specifically, they find that the public evaluations of competence are subject to a high degree of common movement over time: a major policy failure in one policy area doesn’t just influence perceptions on that policy; it can taint the public’s trust in a party on unrelated issues. In the UK, for example, the ERM crisis in 1992 had long-term repercussions for the reputation of the Conservative Party. This research has constructed indices of party competence in the US, UK, Canada and Australia that are now publicly available (www.competence-politics.co.uk).