Political disengagement in the UK: who is disengaged?

February 25, 2021

People are politically disengaged if they do not know, value or participate in the democratic process. In the UK, political disengagement takes different forms and is more prevalent among certain groups than others. This paper considers characteristics associated with several indicators of political disengagement: selected political attitudes; levels of participation in political activities; electoral registration; voting; and elected councillors, candidates and MPs.

Age: young people are less likely to register to vote, vote and be elected, and to participate in selected political activities, but older people tend to have more negative attitudes about politics. The average age of councillors, candidates and MPs is over 50.

Ethnicity: people from minority ethnic groups were less likely to be registered to vote, vote and be elected. People from white groups were more likely to have negative attitudes to politics and participate less in political activities.

Social grade: unskilled workers and the long-term unemployed were more politically disengaged than people from other occupational backgrounds, as measured against all the indicators included in this paper. Not much is known about the socio-economic backgrounds of councillors, candidates and MPs, although the number of MPs from a lower-skilled background has decreased in recent years.

Gender: women tend to have more negative attitudes to politics than men, and to be less likely to participate in political activities. Men and women are equally likely to register to vote and – usually – to vote, although women were less likely to vote at the 2019 General Election. Women are underrepresented in local government and Parliament.

Research suggests while some people are unhappy with the way democracy functions and would like to have more opportunities to participate, others share their unhappiness but not their appetite for more involvement.

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