NEWS9 June 2015

How research can help design a democracy

News UK

UK — The research industry has a vital role in helping to re-engage the public in politics, according to Deborah Mattinson, founder director of BritainThinks.


In her article: ‘Reconnecting people with politics’, written for the Market Research Society’s Delphi Group series on improving democratic engagement, Mattinson writes about the widespread public disengagement that served as a backdrop to the recent general election. She describes the election as “arguably the least fair in recent history”, with half of all votes cast being cast for a candidate who lost, and suggests that individual votes cast don’t carry equal value.

“If you are a UKIP voter, for example, it takes an astonishing 3.9 million votes to achieve just one MP. The Green Party polled 1.2 million but also only returned one MP. May 7th saw the Conservative party win an overall majority with a minority vote, Labour’s vote share increase but their number of seats collapse, the Lib Dems’ 8% share of the vote resulting in just eight seats and the SNP winning half of the vote in Scotland but a staggering 95% of all seats.”

While almost three million people claimed to have voted ‘tactically’, Mattinson says, qualitative research run by BritainThinks suggests that many only have a vague idea about what that means and “an even vaguer sense of how to achieve it”. There is, Mattinson claims, also a sense that the more voters hear from politicians, the less they understand.

“At a time when public trust in politics is also at its lowest ever — only 18% say they trust politicians nowadays — a system that effectively leaves millions disenfranchised can only compound the problem. Most voters feel disconnected both from the process of politics and the politicians it produces.”

Mattinson goes on to talk about the inquiry launched by the British Polling Council into the polling surrounding the election, saying that the industry should not wait for the outcome of the inquiry “before we stick our collective head above the parapet”.

“The job of connecting politicians and members of the public is a vital one and it’s one that we can really help with. Our tool kit of methods can play a unique part in getting under the skin of what voters and citizens really feel. There is a role for a variety of qualitative, deliberative and ethnographic methodologies as well as the (currently somewhat undermined) more familiar quantitative ones.”

The article can be read in full here.