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DEMOCRACY IN DECLINE: IS THE UK POLITICALLY ILLITERATE?


I have a voice (IHAV) has embarked on a new study with the think-tank 89 Initiative. The research is in response to concerns about:

  • High levels of mis-trust in politicians and politics

  • Low voter turnout, particularly amongst marginalised communities

  • The rise of fake news and misinformation

  • Populism

Trust in politics and politicians was already at an all time low based on both historic and international standards before the ‘elections’ of Liz Truss, and swiftly afterwards Rishi Sunak, led to headlines around the world asking whether democracy is in decline in the UK.

Sadly, it is. Voter turnout in UK General Elections has fallen overtime and those aged under 25 remain stubbornly less likely to vote than older members of the population. Youth political engagement organisation IHAV surveyed 192 young people to find out why and whilst 81% said they think it is important to vote, 60% said the main barrier to voting is feeling that they do not know enough.

Despite this, there is limited research into how informed people are about politics and what will help people to feel like they know enough to get involved. That’s why IHAV has teamed up with researchers at The 89 Initiative to conduct a feasibility study of whether it is possible to develop a nationwide approach to measuring the population’s political literacy.

Taking action to equip everyone with the knowledge and tools to be active in our democracy is needed if we’re going to reverse any ‘decline’ in democracy in the UK. The need to strengthen our democracy is urgent. It is key to addressing challenges such as climate change and the cost of living crisis.

Everyone is exposed to political risk each and every day. Political decisions and discourse shape how we think, how we behave, our education, employment, financial security and health, and they shape how we engage with the individuals and institutions that make decisions that affect our lives. If people don’t engage with politics their views and lived experiences will be missing from public policy and political decisions that directly impact their lives. Our ultimate goal is to understand the impact that increasing political literacy across the population will have on political participation so that more people are actively engaging with the decision-making processes in our democratic system and having a say in the daily decisions being made by politicians that affect all of our lives. But first we need to understand how to assess someone’s political literacy.

Our aim is to determine whether a measure of someone’s political literacy could be credibly produced, in a format that could be repeated on a regular basis. This measure could provide us with a nationwide snapshot of what people know about politics and how it changes over time.” Dr Marina Cino Pagliarello, Research Director, Civic Education, HQ, 89 Initiative

We want to test whether political education leads to greater engagement and what efforts to increase people’s understanding of politics have the greatest impact. Particularly for those who have the lowest level of political engagement and are too often marginalised.” Rebecca Deegan, CEO, IHAV

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