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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Persuading the Apathy Party
Swingometer
The BBC is looking for new ways to present politics
By BBC Media Correspondent Torin Douglas

We already knew that interest in this year's general election was very low, from the TV audience figures and the voting turnout.

Monday's survey of 3,000 viewers shows just how low.

A quarter of those surveyed said they had ignored the TV coverage altogether, compared with just six per cent at the last election.

And while 40% said they had switched channels to avoid it, 70% said they had had little or no interest in watching.

Satellite channel

Many of those in the survey simply wanted less coverage.

"Four weeks is too long, two weeks is enough," commented one pensioner, while another respondent thought one week was more than enough.

Others suggested the coverage should all be put on its own satellite channel next time - "for those people who are interested", said one woman.

Some respondents said there should be more coverage of the minority parties, "including the largest party - the Apathy Party".

It is a problem that is already being addressed by broadcasters, politicians and election organisers.

Fierce audience

The BBC has begun a three-month review of all its political coverage, designed to "come up with fresh ideas to ensure the way we report politics remains relevant and engaging in the 21st Century".

Even the Question Time special, on which Tony Blair was grilled by a fierce studio audience, attracted only 2.5m viewers - in peak time.

The Electoral Commission - which promotes public awareness of the electoral process - published its own Mori research during the summer.

On the surface, it seemed much less gloomy than the new report, showing that 58% of respondents were "very" or "fairly" interested this year, compared to 52% four years ago.

Yet it also showed that 66% found the campaign uninteresting, and only 34% agreed that "voting would make a difference".

Mobile voting

So what would make people feel more involved?

The Electoral Commission survey showed that 66% of non-voters said they would have been more likely to vote if they could have done so by phone or mobile phone.

And 51% said voting by post would have made them more likely to vote (in fact this method was available to everyone for the first time this year, but the survey showed that 44% of non-voters did not know that).

As for the TV coverage, the ITC survey suggests people want to see more about policies and less about personalities.

"There was a general perception that the party leaders hogged the limelight," says the report.

Prescott punch

"Watching party leaders travelling around the country, saying the same things at each stop was particularly tedious," commented one woman.

Yet many broadcasters and viewers would say that these were the only times the campaign caught light - with the John Prescott punch-up and Tony Blair getting ambushed outside a hospital by a woman angry at the failings of the NHS.

Of course the main reason for this year's lack of electoral excitement was that everyone thought they knew the result in advance.

When that situation changes, interest in watching and voting should revive - and, if it does not, the broadcasters and politicians really do have a problem.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Tuning out
Why was the general election a turn off?
See also:

01 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Viewers turned off by election
24 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Report tackles voter apathy
24 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Voters 'ignored e-election'
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Jenkins urges voting reform
08 Jun 01 | Wales
Ballot box boredom hits town
11 May 01 | Voting System
What the electoral commission does
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