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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Study examines voter apathy

Is voter apathy a sign of the times?
A five year study is being launched in an attempt to unravel whether people in the UK are turning their backs on becoming involved in the community.

The research programme by the Economic and Social Research Council is examining whether declining voting habits are the tip of the iceberg in public participation.

It will aim to discover whether falling numbers of voters mean people are less worried who is elected to govern or if there are more complex reasons.

The study was launched on Tuesday by Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam.

It seeks to assess the current level of public participation in groups as diverse as Save the Countryside and Women's Institutes.

'Rapid social change'

The study will try to provide analysis into the three areas of unpaid voluntary activity; participation in elections, political parties and interest groups; unorthodox activities such as road protests and campaigns over planning enquiries and community based activity including cultural and education based groups.

Programme director Professor Paul Whiteley said: "We are in a period of rapid social change and it is vital that our society can respond to the evolving needs of the British citizens.

"The ESRC Democracy & Participation Research Programme is a timely initiative that will provide crucial information on the scale and nature of public participation and how this affects the very institutions we depend upon for our democracy".

'Valuable insights'

Ms Mowlam said: "As part of the Modernising Government agenda, this government is committed to ensuring that the policy making process is inclusive and we cannot achieve this unless we find new and different ways of reaching people.

"This is exactly what the ESRC programme hopes to achieve and it is especially encouraging that some of the projects are focusing on participation by different groups, such as young people, ethnic minorities and people in rural areas.

"The ESRC programme promises some valuable insights which will aid progress in participation. I don't deny that research results can sometimes make uncomfortable reading, but they provide the essential grit in the process of informed policy making and civil servants, ministers and academics need to identify ways to work together."

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