Engaged Cynics? Young People’s Involvement in Politics and Decision-making in the UK

  • Eldin Fahmy


Since the early 1990s the apparent disconnection of young people from conventional politics in the UK has become a subject of intense debate amongst policy-makers, academics and media commentators. Evidence of low levels of political interest, knowledge and conventional political engagement amongst young people has been well-documented in recent years (see for example, Molloy et al., 2002; Electoral Commission, 2002a; Kimberlee, 2002; Harrison and Deicke, 2000; White and Bruce, 2000; Bentley and Oakley, 1999; Wring et al., 1998; Wilkinson and Mulgan, 1995; Bhavnani, 1994; Banks et al., 1992). In particular, young people’s electoral non-participation has often been viewed as symptomatic of a deeper political disconnection, fuelling concerns about the emergence of an apolitical, socially disengaged generation. This chapter examines these claims by drawing upon existing empirical research and recent qualitative interviews with 39 young people aged 15–19 in the south-west of England. In view of these and other findings this chapter assesses the policy


Young People Political Participation Citizenship Education Political Engagement Political Knowledge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Banks, M.H., Bates, I., Breakwell, G., Bynner, J., Emler, N., Jamieson, L. and Roberts, K. (1992) Careers and Identities. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bentley, T. and Oakley, K. (1999) The Real Deal: What Young People Really Think About Government, Politics and Social Exclusion. London: DEMOS.Google Scholar
  3. Bhavnani, K.-K. (1994) Talking Politics: A Psychological Framing for Views from Youth in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blondel, J., Sinnot, R. and Svensson, P. (1998) People and Parliament in the European Union. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bromley, C., Stratford, N. and Rao, N. (2000) Revisiting Public Perceptions of Local Government: A Decade of Change. London: Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions.Google Scholar
  6. British Youth Council (BYC) (1998) State of the Young Nation Survey. London: BYC.Google Scholar
  7. BYC (1996) Young People, Politics and Voting. London: BYC.Google Scholar
  8. BYC (1995) M-Power Young Voter Registration Briefing (July). London: BYC.Google Scholar
  9. Capella, J. and Jamieson, K. (1996) ‘News Frames, Political Cynicism and Media Cynicism’, Annals of the American Academy of Political Science, XX (X), pp. 71–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carnegie Institute (2001) Taking the Initiative: Promoting Young People’s Involvement in Decision-Making. UK Full Report of the Carnegie Young People’s Initiative. London: Carnegie Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Children’s Rights Alliance of England (CRAE) (2000) The Real Democratic Deficit: Why 16 and 17 Year-Olds Should be Allowed to Vote. London: CRAE.Google Scholar
  12. Crick, B. and Porter, A. (eds) (1978) Political Education and Political Literacy. London: Longman/Hansard Society.Google Scholar
  13. Children’s and Young People’s Unit (CYPU) (2001) Learning to Listen: Core Principles for the Involvement of Children and Young People. London: Department for Education and Skills.Google Scholar
  14. Crook, S., Pakulski, J. and Waters, M. (1992) Postmodernization: Change in Advanced Society. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Dalton, R.J. (1988) Citizen Politics in Western Democracies. New Jersey: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  16. Davies, I. (1999) ‘What Has Happened in the Teaching of Politics in Schools and Why?’, Oxford Review of Education, 25 (1/2), pp. 125–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) (1998) Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People. London: DETR.Google Scholar
  18. Dunleavy, P., Margetts, H., Smith, T. and Weir, S. (2001) Voices of the People: Popular Attitudes to Democratic Renewal in Britain. London: Politico’s.Google Scholar
  19. Edwards, L. (2001) Politics not Parties: Young People and Political Engagement. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.Google Scholar
  20. Electoral Commission (2002a) Voter Engagement and Young People. London: Electoral Commission.Google Scholar
  21. Electoral Commission (2002b) Modernising Elections: A Strategic Evaluation of the 2002 Electoral Pilot Schemes. London: Electoral Commission.Google Scholar
  22. Fitzpatrick, S., Hastings, A. and Kintrea, K. (1998) Including Young People in Urban Regeneration: A Lot to Learn? Bristol: Policy Press/Joseph Rowntree Foundation.Google Scholar
  23. Frazer, E. (1999) ‘The Idea of Political Education’, Oxford Review of Education, 25 (1), pp. 5–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Furnham, A. and Gunter, B. (1987) ‘Young Peoples’ Political Knowledge’, Educational Studies, 13 (1), pp. 91–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hackett, C. (1997) ‘Young People and Political Participation’, in J. Roche and S. Tucker (eds), Youth in Society. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Harrison, L. and Deicke, W. (2000) ‘Capturing First-Time Voters: An Initial Study of Political Attitudes Amongst Teenagers’, Youth and Policy, 67, pp. 26–40.Google Scholar
  27. Henn, M. and Weinstein, M. (2003) First-time Voters’ Attitudes Towards Party Politics in Britain. Unpublished ESRC Research Report.Google Scholar
  28. House of Commons (2000) Lords Reform: The Interim House–Background Statistics. House of Commons Research Paper 00/61, June 2000.Google Scholar
  29. Improvement and Development Agency (IDEA) (2001) National Census of Local Authority Councillors in England and Wales 2001. London: IDEA.Google Scholar
  30. Inglehart, R. (1977) The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Inglehart, R. (1990) Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Kerr, D., Lines, A., Blenkinsop, S. and Schagen, I. (2002) England’s Results from the IEA International Citizenship Education Study: What Citizenship and Education Mean to 14 Year Olds. DfES Research Report 375. London: The Stationary Office.Google Scholar
  33. Kimberlee, R. (2002) ‘Why Don’t British Young People Vote at General Elections?’, Journal of Youth Studies, 5 (1), pp. 84–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lansdown, G. (2002) Challenging Discrimination against Children in the EU. Brussels: Euronet. 200 Young People’s Involvement with Politics and Decision-makingGoogle Scholar
  35. Lansdown, G. (2001) Promoting Children’s Participation in Democratic Decision-Making. Florence: Unicef Innocenti Research Centre.Google Scholar
  36. Local Government Association (LGA) (2001) Involving Young People in Decision-Making: A Survey of Local Authorities. LGA Research Briefing 10. London: LGA/IPPR.Google Scholar
  37. Lister, R., Smith, N., Middleton, S. and Cox, L. (2003) ‘Young People Talk about Citizenship: Empirical Perspectives on Theoretical and Political Debates’, Citizenship Studies, 7 (2), pp. 235–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mardle, G. and Taylor, M. (1987) ‘Political Knowledge and Ignorance: A Re-Examination’, Political Quarterly, 58, pp. 208–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marsh, A. (1990) Political Action in Europe and the USA. Basingstoke: Macmillan—Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marsh, A. (1977) Protest and Political Conciousness. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Molloy, D., White, C. and Hosfield, N. (2002) Understanding Youth Participation in Local Government: A Qualitative Study. London: Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.Google Scholar
  42. Monbiot, G. (2003) ‘Rattling the Bars’, The Guardian, 18 November.Google Scholar
  43. MORI (2001) Survey of Attitudes during the 2001 General Election Campaign. London: MORI.Google Scholar
  44. Norris, P., Curtice, J., Sanders, D., Scammell, M. and Semetko, H. (1999) On Message: Communicating the Campaign. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2003) National Curriculum Citizenship: Planning and Implementation 2002/03. London: Ofsted.Google Scholar
  46. Parry, G., Moyser, M. and Day, N. (1992) Political Participation and Democracy in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Park, A. (2000) ‘The Generation Game’, British Social Attitudes, Volume 17. Social and Community Planning Research. Aldershot: Gower.Google Scholar
  48. Park, A. (1999) ‘Young People and Political Apathy’, British Social Attitudes, Vol. 16. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  49. Park, A. (1996) ‘Teenagers and Their Politics’, British Social Attitudes Survey, Volume 12. Social and Community Planning Research. Aldershot: Dartmouth.Google Scholar
  50. Qualifications and Curriculum Agency (QCA) (1998) Final Report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship Education and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools. London: QCA.Google Scholar
  51. Roberts, K. and Parsell, G. (1990) ‘The Political Orientations, Interests, and Activities of Britain’s 16 to 18 Year Olds in the Late 1980s’, ESRC 16–19 Initiative Occasional Paper. London: City University.Google Scholar
  52. Roker, D., Player, K. and Coleman, J. (1999) Challenging the Image: Young People as Volunteers and Campaigners. Leicester: National Youth Agency.Google Scholar
  53. Roker, D. and Player, K. (1997) ‘A Part of Something Bigger’, Youth Action, 60, pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  54. Scammell, M. (1999) ‘Political Marketing: Lessons for Political Science’, Political Studies, 47, pp. 718–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Scammell, M. and Harrop, M. (1997) ‘The Press’, in D. Butler and D. Kavanagh (eds), The British General Election of 1997. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  56. Seyd, P. and Whiteley, P. (1995) ‘Labour and Conservative Party Members’, Parliamentary Affairs, 48 (3), pp. 457–72.Google Scholar
  57. Stradling, R. (1977) The Political Awareness of School Leavers. London: Hansard Society.Google Scholar
  58. UK Youth Parliament (2002) Manifesto and Agenda For Action, 2002. London: UKYP.Google Scholar
  59. Wade, H., Lawton, A. and Stevenson, M. (2001) Hear By Right: Setting Standards for the Active Involvement of Young People in Democracy. London: LGA/ National Youth Agency.Google Scholar
  60. Webb, P. (1992) ‘Election Campaigning, Organisational Transformation and the Professionalisation of the British Labour Party’, European Journal of Political Research, 21, pp. 267–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. White, C. and Bruce, S. (2000) Young People’s Politics: Political Interest and Engagement amongst 14–24 Year Olds. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.Google Scholar
  62. Whiteley, P., Seyd, P. and Richardson, J. (1994) True Blues: The Politics of Conservative Members. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  63. Wilkinson, H. and Mulgan, G. (1995) Freedom’s Children: Work, Relationships and Politics for 18–34 Year Olds in Britain Today. London: Demos.Google Scholar
  64. Willow, C. (1997) Hear! Hear! Promoting Children and Young People’s Democratic Participation in Local Government. London: Local Government Information Unit.Google Scholar
  65. Wolchover, J. (2002) ‘Today’s Lesson: Citizenship for Beginners’, The Independent, 18 April.Google Scholar
  66. Worcester, R. and Mortimer, R. (2001) Explaining Labour’s Second Landslide. London: Politico’s.Google Scholar
  67. Wring, D., Henn, M., and Weinstein, M. (1998) Young People and Politics: A Study of Opinion in Nottinghamshire, 1998. Nottingham: Nottinghamshire County Council.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eldin Fahmy

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations