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Young people, political participation and trust in Britain

Matt Henn
Nottingham Trent University
Nick Foard
Matt Henn
Nottingham Trent University
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper will present the preliminary results from a project that follows on from a national survey completed by the lead researcher in 2002. That earlier study identified a significant degree of disengagement from politics amongst British 18 year olds, of whom only 39% voted at the 2001 General Election. Crucially, it found that this disengagement rested upon a high degree of youth distrust and scepticism about “formal politics”, and particularly of professional politicians. Since the 2002 study, policy makers have become increasingly concerned about the continuing lack of engagement that young people have with the formal political process in Britain. The current study began in 2011, and focuses upon a new generation of young people a decade on from the previous research. By analysing early findings from the current study’s survey data, we shall examine the views that youth have about formal politics now, and how these may differ in comparison to those expressed by the 2002 cohort. Furthermore, by revealing the underlying mechanisms driving such views and subsequent behaviours, the research will provide important insights into what might be done to change views which lead young people to self-exclude from the political process. The paper will therefore help in developing a greater theoretical understanding of youth political participation in Britain, and of attitudes to political institutions, processes and procedures. The study is innovative in its use of online methods, and is based on a national online questionnaire survey amongst 1,000 18-year olds, including voters and non-voters.