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Research commissioned by Wilkes, a new non-profit Parliamentary news organisation, shows the media is failing to connect the public’s interest in politics with the Parliamentary process in Westminster, despite high levels of interest in political issues.
In an online poll of 2000 UK adults, weighted to be representative of the population, more than two-thirds of the public claim to be ‘interested’ or ‘extremely interested’ in decisions that MPs take about issues such as healthcare, crime and policing. Similar numbers are interested in immigration and economic policy.
However when asked about ‘politics’ in general, the claimed level of interest declines dramatically. Only one-third of the public (33%) claim to be interested in Westminster politics in general. That figure falls to 25% when people are asked about the work of select committees. And only 21% of people have read or watched a report about a Westminster Parliamentary debate other than Prime Minister’s Questions.
When asked about political media, only 3% of respondents said that they regularly visited the BBC’s ‘Democracy Live’ website, whilst 86% had never visited it at all. Four out of five people had never signed a petition to an MP.
If the more traditional channels of engaging with the media and politics are being used at all then it tends to be by an older audience: 42% of over-65s read newspaper comment pages either online or in paper format and 23% have written to their MP in last few months, compared with only 8% of 25-34 year olds.
Unsurprisingly, a younger audience are more engaged online; however it is clear that these areas still only attract a niche audience of political news addicts. Only 5% of respondents in this online poll claim to have followed a politician on Twitter in the last two months and only 10% claim to have expressed their political opinions online – in a blog or forum.
The research has therefore highlighted a much broader audience whose needs are not being served by politicians and the media with two-thirds of the public never having visited a broadsheet newspaper website.
Jonathan Heawood, the founder of Wilkes, said, ‘it’s amazing that despite such high levels of interest in political issues, politicians and journalists are still failing to connect with the public. We’ve got a great democracy on offer in this country – it’s a shame that so few people are making use of it. Unless we can engage the public more broadly in the political process, it will become something that only well-paid lobbyists and interest groups are able to influence.’
Heawood, who’s also Director of English Pen, has been developing Wilkes with the help of New Deal of the Mind, since April 2011. He hopes that the website, which is expected to launch early in 2013, will bridge the gap between the public and Parliament.
New Deal of Mind founder Martin Bright, who is also a political journalist said, ‘The British public is turned on by politics but switched off by Westminster. This polling shows the media has to take its share of responsibility for this.’