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In Politics we Trust?

Picture of board held on some railings. The board is black with blue writing that says "Abuse of power comes as no surprise"
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

For most of us, the turbulence of the past decade may call into question our confidence and trust of political decision-making, but when it comes to youth audiences, you have to wonder how much of an impact such a large proportion of life in the current climate will impact their perspective on politics.

While the lettuce may have grabbed the most media attention through memes linked to the departure of Liz Truss as Prime Minister, the intergenerational political satire is something that younger audiences will grow up knowing all too well.

As I write up Engaging Youth 2022, there are a few areas of opinion and insight in relation to politics that felt pertinent to share in a blog – because let’s face it, a week is an extremely long time in politics in the UK.

Political discourse

Politics has most certainly moved from something that’s more of a private part of life, to something that’s shared openly online. The growing discourse on social media, kicked off considerably by the referendum on Brexit, has become a far greater part of life online. The UK are not alone in this either. Trump’s divisive tenure, saw an equally divisive narrative online, and has even sparked the creation of dating apps in the US created to exclusively service certain political demographics.

What young people see in politics can shape other areas of their lives.

  • 1-in-3 young people say they believe the behaviour of politicians influences how people treat each other at school (Ditch the Label Annual Bullying Survey 2020)

  • Nearly half of all respondents, regardless of age, said they trusted government leaders and journalists the least (Edelman Trust Barometer 2022)

  • Just 12% of 16-24s trust politicians to tell the truth (BBC Radio 1 and Newsbeat Survey Oct 2022)

Rising costs of living

As shared earlier this month, the rising costs of living are a considerable issue for young people, impacting their quality of life, studies, work and future prospects. How they feel about their quality of life and future prospects is certainly being put to the test.

  • 49% of 16-24s feel proud to live in the UK (BBC Radio 1 and Newsbeat Survey Oct 2022)

  • 52% of 16-24s say they are worried about the rising cost of living and inflation (BBC Radio 1 and Newsbeat Survey Oct 2022)

  • 40% are worried about being financially secure and 31% are worried about being able to rent somewhere to live (BBC Radio 1 and Newsbeat Survey Oct 2022)

Impact of an epidemic?

Researchers from the London School of Economics have built on work suggesting that attitudes and behaviours are durably moulded in late-adolescent and early-adult years, finding that young people who have been exposed to epidemics are likely to develop a lasting lack of confidence in political institutions and negative attitudes toward political leaders.

The significance for younger people is their long-term distrust in government and the decisions it makes, whether they vote or not, and the confidence of institutions to make decisions that benefit wider society.

  • Only 17% of 16-24s claim to be positive about the future of UK politics, 20% about the UK economy and 26% about the environment (BBC Radio 1 and Newsbeat Survey Oct 2022)

  • An individual with high exposure to an epidemic is 7.2 percentage points less likely to have confidence in the honest of elections, 5.1 percentage points less likely to have confidence in the national government; and 6.2 percentage points less likely to approve the performance of the political leader (The Political Scar of Epidemics; Barry Eichengreen, Orkun Saka, and Cevat G Aksoy 2021, LSE, 2021)

Youth Voice and Activism and Online

Activism is synonymous with youth culture and online platforms are at least continuing to function as tools to enable young people to have a voice in the UK. This is often a route into politics on a broader scale, with online platforms enabling young people to join communities, share opinions and identify with different causes and movements that are meaningful to them.

  • Social media is fast overtaking traditional news channels among young people. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are the top three most used sources for news for British Teens (Ofcom)

  • 70% of Gen Z are involved in a social or political cause (Edelman)

If you’re interested in better engaging young people check out the Hear It Podcast wherever you get your podcasts, which is about to launch Season 3. Plus the Engaging Youth Report 2022 will soon be out sharing lots of contextual information about young people living in the UK which you may also find useful (both due out in November 2022).

Links to research/reports mentioned

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