By Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker. Will Jennings is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at University of Southampton (Academia.edu, Twitter) and Gerry Stoker is Professor of Governance at University of Southampton (Twitter). You can read more posts by Will Jennings here and more posts by Gerry Stoker here.
In a Public Policy @ Southampton briefing in Westminster today (slides here), Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker present evidence and analysis on the phenomenon of anti-politics and its likely impact on the 2015 General Election. The “anti-politics” phenomenon is complex but is reflected in negative attitudes towards mainstream politics and political parties among citizens.
A void has grown between politicians and citizens and we here present longitudinal survey evidence to support that claim. It’s fair to say politics has never been that popular among British citizens. In 1944, 36% thought politicians were mainly out to do the best for their country, in 2014 that figure had dropped to 10%.
That sense of disillusionment is impacting on the General Election in two main ways:
- It is driving support for UKIP. The odds of someone voting UKIP are three times higher if they express distrust in politicians. When you include political distrust in a range of models based on the popular and widely accepted Ford and Goodwin thesis, political distrust has the second biggest single effect of any variable – beaten only by wanting to leave the EU (i.e. distrust of politicians has bigger effects on likelihood to vote UKIP than demographic factors, concern about immigration and dislike for the main party leaders). In short our evidence suggests that UKIP support is more about disillusionment with politics than any great cultural gap or lost voters.
- It is distorting the choices open to citizens as politicians duck difficult issues given their sense of not being trusted and the marketing rules that dominate the practices of political elites. The policy menus on offer are being distorted by politicians’ perceptions of what is acceptable and unacceptable to say, and aimed at the people who are involved in formal (electoral) politics. Debates about the deficit, austerity and public spending at the core of the General Election are replete with distortions, half-truths and fail to give citizens a real sense of the choices they face.
Political disillusionment does not mean that citizens have no faith in politics, the issue that citizens have is with the current practice of politics. Our 2013 survey evidence reveals that 63% still think that politicians in government can make a difference and 52% think that they have access to the technical know-how to do so. The problem is that the way that politics is done. Some 80% of citizens that that politicians are too short-termist and focused on chasing favourable headlines, while 72% think they are too self-seeking and beholden to rich and powerful interests.
When it comes to thinking about solutions it’s difficult to imagine that mainstream parties could lead the change but that is exactly what is required. The answer is not to move onto the territory of populist challengers but instead change the way that politics is offered and give citizens real choices. After the election we need citizens’ commissions to be set up so that cross-sections of the public can lead the reform process towards a better politics.
This research is funded under the ESRC research award ‘Popular Understandings of Politics in Britain, 1937-2014’ (Nick Clarke, Gerry Stoker, Will Jennings and Jonathan Moss). See further details here.