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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 18:38 GMT
Young 'not turned off' by politics
Young people
Do young people only bother with Big Brother?
Young people are not becoming more cynical about politics, according to an influential survey of social attitudes.

The 19th British Social Attitudes survey suggested that the reason for the low turnout at the 2001 General Election was that nearly half of voters did not see much difference between the choices on offer to them.


A more interesting election, and a tighter race, will result in higher levels of turnout in the future

John Curtice, report author
The survey also suggests that young people are no more distrustful of government than other age groups - a lower proportion of those aged 40 to 59 trust politicians than those aged 18 to 24.

The general population is no less interested in politics now than it was at the time of Margaret Thatcher's government, claims the survey based on 3,000 interviews, which has been conducted annually since 1983.

Trust

However, the survey suggested trust in the government remained in decline.

Just over a quarter of those surveyed showed reasonably high levels of trust, down from 33% after Labour's election victory in 1997, and 47% after the Conservative 1987 victory.

Theresa May
Mrs May says young are turned off by party politics
Although the survey suggested that young people are no more distrustful of politicians than other age groups, it says they are less interested in politics and less likely to vote, but this tends to change as they get older.

John Curtice, of the National Centre for Social Research, which compiled the report, said: "A more interesting election, and a tighter race, will result in higher levels of turnout in the future.

"But we must not be complacent. After all, we don't know when (or whether) politics will become more interesting and competitive.

"And 'boring' politics might mean young people fail to get sufficiently engaged as they grow older."

Think tank

The survey comes as the Conservatives announced they had recruited the man behind TV hit Big Brother in an effort to involve younger voters in politics.

TV mogul Peter Bazalgette is heading a think-tank aimed at making politics more relevant to the young.

He is joined by academic David Butler and Independent MP Dr Richard Taylor on the Commission for Democracy.

Announcing its creation, Tory chairman Theresa May compared the last general election, where 61% of under-21s failed to vote, with the hugely popular gameshow.

"More people vote in Big Brother elections," she said.

"Why? Well, perhaps it's because when you vote in Big Brother you think it will affect the outcome."

'Party politics'

Mrs May stressed that while her party had set up the commission, its findings would be made available to all parties.

In a speech to youth group Conservative Future, Mrs May said: "The Commission will look at why turnout is so low particularly among younger voters.

"It will look at the way politicians present themselves and communicate with voters.

"It will look across the range of issues so that it can begin to find ways of re-engaging people in voting and in active politics."

She said the young were not disinterested in politics, just "party politics".

"They feel the formal structures of Westminster do not adequately represent their views."

'Out of touch'

Mrs May's comments failed to impress Liberal Democrat youth and students chairman Alison Goldsworthy, who championed her party's youth credentials.

"It is not surprising that the Tories feel the need to set up a commission to find out what young people want from politics as they are so far out of touch with the youth of today," said Ms Goldsworthy.

"Until the Tories reconsider their policies on issues such as gay rights, votes at 16 and a modern outlook on drugs then they will continue to be ignored by young people."

The BBC is in the process of revamping its politics coverage after a review of output in the light of a survey commissioned to look at the reasons for the low turnout at the 2001 general election.

This survey suggested many people under the age of 45 were disillusioned with politics and believed politicians to be "crooks", "liars" and "a waste of time".

See also:

05 Sep 02 | Politics
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