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The political attitudes of young people today indicate a steady growth in political disengagement. One reason given for higher levels of disengagement is that younger people feel a lack of trust towards our representative bodies. A Government poll conducted in 2018 showed that only 22% of people aged 18-24 were satisfied with the present system of governing.[1] Furthermore, a 2021 Government report shows that trust in the government has fallen from 38% in 1986 to just 18% in 2013.[2]

Another reason for this is the unprecedented growth in digital spaces, which have diverted the attention of young people from their local community and public activism to exerting their influence online.[3] IHAV thinks that engaging with young people online to boost their political literacy has the potential to improve trust in political processes and politicians in the long run by increasing transparency, accessibility and accountability.

A further factor that contributes to this phenomenon is the patchy approach to citizenship and political education. A recent report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Political Literacy found that less than a third of secondary schools offer substantial political education, and that fee-paying schools and schools in affluent areas are most likely to offer meaningful political education.[4] Education is meant to support young people to build their character and academic strengths and interests. However, this postcode lottery is breeding a generation of young people who know very little about politics and their power to influence.

Given this context, is it surprising that young people being less likely to vote than older people. The turnout in the 2019 elections of those aged 18-24 was 54%, compared to 77% of those aged 65+.[5] Even in the Brexit Referendum, the lowest turnout of 60% was amongst 18-24 years old.[6] We surveyed 192 young people and whilst 81% of the respondents said it is important that people vote, 60% said the main barrier to voting is feeling that they do not know enough.[7]

Young people are not homogenous. Political attitudes vary dependent on factors such as your ethnicity and gender. For example, in the 2019 General Election turnout amongst white voters stood at 67%, compared to 59% amongst ethnic minority voters. The good news is that this is an increase from the 2015 elections where minority voter turnout was 53%.[8] But this does not necessarily mean that white members of the UK population are more engaged than their ethnic minority counterparts - 47% of people with minority ethnicities reported that they would like to be more involved in the political process, compared to only 36% of those identified as white.[9] Research suggests that young people from minority groups are more likely to want to engage in politics compared to white counterparts. However, The Equality and Human Rights Commission stated in its 2015 report ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ that ethnic minorities are more likely to face obstacles during the voter registration process and have a general feeling of mistrust in politicians.[10]

IHAV is conducting a survey to find out the impact of political literacy on political engagement and to get young people’s views on what they want from political education. You can simply help us by completing our quick survey, or by joining our campaign for quality political education for all. It's time to consider our role as citizens and start making a real difference in our communities.

[1] Department of Education: State of the nation 2021: children and young people’s wellbeing 2021 p.18-24

[2] GovUK: Political Disengagement in the UK: Who is Disengaged, 2021

[3] Bailly E. and Marchand D. 2013. Digitalization of public spaces: sensory and emotional issues in people’s relationships to places

[4] Weinberg. J. 2021: An Updated Evaluation of the Provision Practice and Politics of Democratic Education in English Secondary Schools. APPG(Political Literacy)

[5] Electoral Commission 2019 Report: Accuracy and Completeness of the 2018 Electoral registers in Great Britain, October 2019.

[6] GovUK, 2021 (ibid

[7] IHAV, 2021, Discussion Paper: Political literacy and Participation

[8] Electoral Commission 2019 (ibid)

[9] GovUK, 2021 (ibid)

[10] Equality and Human Rights Commission, Is Britain Fairer? 2018 October 2018, p161

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