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Our Research Catalogue contains grants and outputs data up until April/May 2014.

Young people and politics in Britain: How do young people participate in politics and what can be done to strengthen their political connection?

Grant reference: RES-000-22-4450

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Impact Report details

Impact Report - Young people and politics in Britain: How do young people participate in politics and what can be done to strengthen their political connection?
The key aims of this research project were firstly to explore reasons for the apparent reluctance of British young citizens to play a full role in political life, and to identify ways and means by which they might be reconnected to the democratic process. A second aim was to investigate the underlying mechanisms which are driving the views and shaping the subsequent behaviours of these young people. To address this second question, we examined the importance and impact on young people’s political engagement of variables such as gender, social class, ethnicity, and educational attainment and career. The research project has generated original primary data to examine these areas, using a representative online national survey and online focus groups.
English

Primary contributor

Author Matt Henn

Additional contributors

Co-author Nick Foard

Impacts

This research project investigated young people’s political participation in Britain. This is an especially important field of study, given that over the last decade policy-makers have become increasingly concerned about this generation’s lack of engagement with the political process. The project examined the ways in which formal politics has been viewed by this youth group over this time by comparing data from the present study with data collected by the Principal Investigator in 2002. The project has also investigated the underlying mechanisms shaping the views and behaviours of these young people for the purpose of gaining insight into what might be done to change views which lead them to self-exclude from the formal democratic process. As part of this, the project has examined the extent to which key variables such as gender, ethnicity, social class, and educational career impact on young people’s patterns of political engagement. In addressing these aims, the research has considered the results from a representative online survey of 1,025 British 18 year olds conducted in 2011, and compared these with the results from the 2002 study. Fourteen online focus groups were also conducted with 86 young people who opted not to vote at the 2010 contest. There are important scientific findings arising from the project. The results suggest that the significant levels of youth disenchantment with formal politics revealed by the 2002 project continue for the current youth generation. Although youth profess a commitment to the political process, they consider that there are relatively few opportunities available for them to intervene effectively in political life. Furthermore, their aversion to formal, professional politics is as deep today as it was for the 2002 cohort. Our results suggest that if they are to be re-engaged with the formal political process, then professional politicians need to take the creative lead in reaching out to connect with young people.

In a number of key respects, the project findings indicate that today’s generation of young people are not appreciably different from their predecessors of 2002. They are broadly interested in politics and supportive of the democratic process. Nonetheless, it would appear that the political system and the political classes are together failing to engage British youth; our study has revealed a considerable aversion to formal, professional politics and to political parties and national politicians. Their orientation towards formal politics is complex and nuanced. The data from the survey and from the focus groups reveal: -There is evidence of a gender gap, and on several key political indicators young men are more engaged than women. -There is also some evidence that ethnicity impacts on young people’s political outlook. In particular, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) youth groups are somewhat dubious about their prospects for influencing the political process, and are more sceptical of political parties. -Social class exerts a considerably strong impact, and those from middle class households appear to be much more engaged in political affairs than are young working class people. -Educational career appears to have a crucial bearing on young people’s political engagement; remaining in (full-time) education has a clear and consistent impact on their political engagement. If young people are to be re-connected to the formal political process, then there is considerable scope for professional politicians to assist in this process by adopting approaches that are direct, on-going and clearly prompted by a desire to genuinely articulate and champion the interests of today’s youth generation. Furthermore, the findings suggest that government social policies that succeed in expanding educational participation and reducing social class differences, may all contribute in helping to limit the drift towards further political disengagement amongst youth in Britain.

Impacts have been achieved through the following dissemination activities(full details are on Research Outcomes System). A web-site for project dissemination to scientific and practitioner communities, and to the public: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/research/groups_centres/soc/young_people_politics.html Scientific publications: 1.Young people, political participation and trust in Britain, 2012.Parliamentary Affairs 2.Back on the agenda and off the curriculum? 2012. Teaching Citizenship 3.A lost generation?2013. Britain in 2013:Annual Magazine of the ESRC 4.Politicians fail to win young people’s vote,2013. ESRC Society Now 5.Social differentiation in young people’s political participation:The impact of social and educational factors on youth political engagement in Britain.Accepted for publication in the Journal of Youth Studies,date to be confirmed. Scientific presentations: Invited presentations to events with audiences of academics and practitioners who have a specific scientific interest in the project: 6.Invited lecture,Michigan State University summer school(London 2011) 7.Invited workshop presentation organised by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia(2012,broadcast to academics,students & practitioners in Barcelona& Madrid) 8.Invited presentation to ‘The Participation of Young People in British Democracy’ workshop,organised by the Royal Holloway(University of London,2013).The audience included academics and practitioners from citizenship agencies 9.Invited presentation to the ‘Political Participation of Young People’ international workshop(Istanbul Bilgi University 2013). Presentations at open scientific events(by application)with especially interested academics: 10.UK PSA Elections,Public Opinion and Parties(Exeter 2011) 11.Northwest Political Science Association(Seattle 2011) 12.Southern Political Science Association(New Orleans 2012) 13.Nordic Youth Research Symposium(Tallinn 2013)

The findings and outputs outlined above had an impact upon academics as well as also researchers in third sector organisations and agencies with an interest in political science, political sociology, and citizenship studies. There are already nine (scientific) citations listed on Google Scholar for the new project output - Henn, M. and Foard, N., 2012. Young people, political participation and trust in Britain, Parliamentary Affairs, 65 (1) pp. 47-67, 2012. DOI: 10.1093/pa/gsr046. ISSN 0031-2290. These citations indicate that the project is already having an impact on the broader scientific community, by having made a contribution to knowledge within the discipline, and by informing current thinking and debates.

The project provides user groups and stakeholders with new data as evidence of the sources and patterns of youth disengagement with formal politics in Britain. We have produced a briefing paper which outlines key findings (see 2B). This has been distributed to targeted groups, and has been made available on our project web-site for researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and the media. As outlined in 2C below, we have: (i) presented numerous invited papers to user groups for their own information and promotional activities, (ii) contributed to briefing meetings (BBC Newsbeat, The National Union of Students, Citizenship Foundation) (iii) contributed to a training event for youth party activists (Labour Party). The following have made use of our research in their work and publications (see 2C and 2D): • New Local Government Network (article by Mansfield) • “Children & Young People Now” magazine • Association of Citizenship Teaching (the journal, “Teaching Citizenship”) • Intergenerational Foundation (report by Berry) • BBC Newsbeat (for briefings for discussion with the Speaker of the House of Commons and MP’s from the main political parties leading on youth political engagement issues) • The project has also been used for a report on compulsory voting commissioned by the Hon. Alyssa Hayden MLC (Member of the Parliament of Western Australia) – (report by Pracillo)

The key findings from the project which have had the societal impact outlined in 2A are as follow: -Although young people are broadly supportive of the formal political process and democratic institutions, they do not feel confident in their own knowledge and understanding of politics to make effective and informed choices about how best to participate-including how to vote in elections.This serves as a major impediment to their engagement with the democratic process.Political parties, politicians and citizenship-oriented groups should therefore explore ways to make information about politics more accessible to young people. -Extending citizenship education in schools might help provide the political literacy skills necessary for young people to intervene in and connect with British democracy in a more effective and confident way.The recent decision to keep citizenship within the new secondary schools National Curriculum- but as a reorganised subject -may have important implications for young people’s internal personal efficacy. -Today’s youth view the political system as closed, with few opportunities available for them to intervene and influence political decisions. Politicians and others need to work with young people to design effective structures through which they can participate in political affairs more effectively. These findings are published in the following outputs(uploaded to Research Outcomes System,ROS): 1.Young people, political participation & trust in Britain, 2012.Parliamentary Affairs 2.Back on the agenda and off the curriculum?2012.Teaching Citizenship 3.A lost generation? 2013. Britain in 2013: Annual Magazine of the ESRC 4.Politicians fail to win young people’s vote, 2013.ESRC Society Now 5.Social differentiation in young people’s political participation:The impact of social and educational factors on youth political engagement in Britain.Accepted for publication in the Journal of Youth Studies, date to be confirmed.

A web-site (see 1C) has been developed to disseminate the project to user groups and the general public. Social impact publications (see ROS): Article for the professional journal, “Teaching Citizenship” which helped to inform practitioners of the impact of citizenship classes in schools. Our research has also been used by the New Local Government Network and by the Intergenerational Foundation in their own publications, and reported in the “Children & Young People Now” magazine (for professionals working with children), see 2D. Key project findings have been published by ESRC’s society-facing journals, “Britain in 2013” and “Society Now”. Social impact consultations and presentations: We have consulted with several stakeholder groups with an interest in citizenship issues: 1. Project design stage. We consulted with all of the main political parties (Labour, Conservatives, LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru). We also consulted with the Citizenship Foundation, NUS, Institute for Citizenship, British Youth Council. 2. Dissemination of findings. We have delivered invited presentations of the research to events with audiences of practitioners who have a specific and scientific interest in the project (see ROS). These include: • Invited presentation to a training event for youth activists (Labour Party Annual Conference, 2011) • Invited presentation to ‘The Participation of Young People in British Democracy’ workshop, Royal Holloway (March, 2013). The audience included practitioners from several citizenship agencies • IPPR North - invited presentations in Newcastle (February 2013) and Manchester (June 2013); see letters of thanks on ROS • Electoral Commission (invited lecture, June 2013); see letter of thanks on ROS • The project has also been reported in the national and professional media (see ROS). This included expert-evidence for shaping BBC Radio 1’s “youth vs politics” voter apathy week (July 2012); see 2A and letter of thanks on ROS

The findings and outputs outlined above had an impact upon third sector organisations and agencies with an interest in citizenship issues. The project has been made use of by the following social practitioner-users in their own research work and practice: 1. Berry, C. 2012. The rise of gerontocracy? Addressing the intergenerational democratic deficit. London: Intergenerational Foundation (http://www.if.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/IF_Democratic_Deficit_final.pdf) 2. Mansfield, C., 2013. Great Expectations: The next step for a new generation. London: New Local Government Network (http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/2013/great-expectations-the-next-steps-for-a-new-generation). 3. Puffett, N., 2011. Vast majority of young people distrust politicians. London: Children & Young People Now (http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/1049666/vast-majority-people-distrust-politicians#sthash.xUm0o5nd.dpuf) 4. Bartlett, J., Bennett, S., Birnie, R. and Wibberley, S., 2013. Virtually members: The Facebook and Twitter followers of UK political parties. London: DEMOS (http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Virtually_Members.pdf?1366125743) 5. Pracilio, A. Compulsory voting – Does it keep the community at large more connected? Have First World countries forgotten the value of the vote? Report for Hon. Alyssa Hayden MLC Member of the Parliament of Western Australia (http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/publications/tabledpapers.nsf/displaypaper/3815429c61cd31f136c4c5ae48257ac5000a65c7/$file/5429.pdf)

Potential future impacts include the following: • We have been invited to contribute a paper from the ‘The Participation of Young People in British Democracy’ workshop, organised by the Royal Holloway (see 1C and 2C) for a prospective special edition of “Western European Politics”; • We are currently working on a commissioned article for publication with “Sociology Review” (forthcoming, October 2013); • We plan to develop the conference paper presented at the “Nordic Youth Research Symposium” (Tallinn 2012) into an article submission for a peer-reviewed academic journal; • We will be presenting the findings from the research project at a seminar at Southampton University (October 2013); • We have been liaising with the BBC to explore scenarios and opportunities for shaping their future programmes concerning young people and politics-based themes (see ROS for letter of thanks from BBC for details).

We had not expected to be extended invitations to present lectures and workshops at so many national and international academic and practitioner/user events (see 1C and 2C). We had not expected to be commissioned to write guest articles. We have completed an article for “Teaching Citizenship” (published – see 2C). An article for “Sociology Review” is in progress (to be completed by October 2013).

N/A - We consider that the research project has already had scientific impact.

N/A - We consider that the research project has already had societal impact.

Cite this outcome

Harvard

Henn, Matt and Foard, Nick. Young people and politics in Britain: How do young people participate in politics and what can be done to strengthen their political connection?: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-4450. Swindon: ESRC

Vancouver

Henn Matt and Foard Nick. Young people and politics in Britain: How do young people participate in politics and what can be done to strengthen their political connection?: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-4450. Swindon: ESRC.