Research into practice

Young people may not be able to vote, but their views are important as they are the electorate and decision makers of tomorrow. Recent research published1 not only looks at the voting intentions of young people aged 11 to 18 but also gives an insight into attitudes they hold in relation to other social and political issues.

The research used questionnaires from 914 pupils from 33 secondary schools and colleges in England and Wales. There were an equal number of boys and girls with an ethnic breakdown of 85 per cent white and 15 per cent non-white. The research was conducted in March 2003, just as citizenship lessons were being introduced into the National Curriculum but before they could effect any real change in the culture of the level of knowledge of young people.

It was no surprise to find that political attitudes that young people take into adulthood begin to be defined while they are in secondary school. By age 17 they had developed attitudes not dissimilar to those found in surveys of adults aged 18-24.

Most young people took part in some form of community activity (86 per cent), whether campaigning or fund-raising for charity, helping with schools events or more explicit political acts such as signing a petition (25 per cent) or joining a protest (10 per cent). The top activity in which young people said they would like to take part in is a protest; 23 per cent said they would like to participate in one in the future.

The research comments that the enthusiasm among young people for active protest “does not appear to have been dampened by the failure of the anti-war demonstrations”. Interestingly, a higher number (10 per cent) said they would be more interested in helping a political group than a religious group (6 per cent). There was no statistical difference between boys and girls.

There was a strong correlation between frequency in reading newspapers and participation in community activities. One in five young people who never or not often read newspapers had not participated in their local community in the previous year, compared with 11 per cent who had. More than two-thirds of young people said they got information from newspapers, with two in five having read The Sun in the previous week. However, in a question about trust, 69 per cent said they would “not trust” journalists, which was more than the 42 per cent that said they would not trust politicians. It must be added that 82 per cent said they would trust their parents.

Tony Blair may be pleased that 91 per cent could correctly identify a photo of him, but only 25 per cent recognised Iain Duncan Smith and even fewer (18 per cent) Charles Kennedy. The research did point out that 90 per cent could identify Robbie Williams.

However, only 10 per cent said they were absolutely certain they would vote if a general election was called (assuming they would be old enough). Of these 39 per cent said they would vote Labour, 27 per cent Conservative, 19 per cent Liberal Democrat and 15 per cent for other parties.

This research is a fascinating insight into how attitudes may have been shaped in young people over the past 18 years.

1 Young People’s Attitudes Towards Politics in Nestl’ Family Monitor Series. Visit

Gaynor Wingham is director of the Professional Independents Consultancy.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.