The latest edition of the Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement has just been released.
The report shows that while last year’s political events increased the public’s interest in politics to a record 58%, there was no matching rise in political or civic activity. It also shows that despite people expressing more interest in how things work locally than in politics in general, only one in 10 people say they will ‘definitely’ spend some time doing some form of voluntary work at some point in the next couple of years. Overwhelmingly, motivation to volunteer and get involved seems to be rooted in a sense of personal self-interest. People are more likely to get involved in their local community ‘if I felt strongly about an issue’ (40%), ‘if it was relevant to me’ (33%), ‘if I had more time’ (28%), and ‘if it affected my street’ (25%).
These findings are commented as follows by Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme, and co-author of the report:
‘The momentous events surrounding the election and its aftermath has left people feeling more interested in and knowledgeable about politics. But they have not been roused to get more involved in it – the majority prefer to remain spectators. Even at the local community level only one in 10 say they are certain to volunteer. People say they are interested in being more engaged locally but on the whole are not willing to actually commit to activities. They are not very altruistic. It’s self-interest that motivates them to action: when an issue affects them or their community in a personal way.
This raises interesting questions for the development of the Big Society. A clear focus on the local and the personal is where the Big Society has the greatest chance of succeeding. The concept needs to avoid political associations, focus on the local and personal, and emphasise ‘community’ rather than ‘Society’. Given that the public are less knowledgeable about how things work locally than they are nationally a strategy to address this knowledge deficit is also needed.’