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Trust in Politicians Plunges to Record Levels, Says Social Attitudes Survey

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A study carried out by the National Centre for Social Research has found the public’s trust in politicians is at its lowest level since records began in 1973.

Levels of trust in politicians is at its lowest level since records began, with 45 percent of people surveyed saying they would “almost never” trust any political party to place the needs of the nation above the interests of themselves.

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has published a study which also found almost eight out of 10 people believe the present system of governing Britain could be improved “a great deal,” the highest level since 2019, during the parliamentary stalemate about Brexit.

It comes as politicians from all the major parties publish their general election manifestos ahead of the July 4 poll.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were followed on Wednesday by the Green Party, and on Thursday Labour is set to follow suit.

One of the authors of the report, Professor John Curtice, said the survey suggested politicians, “need to address the concerns of a public that is as doubtful as it has ever been about the trustworthiness and efficacy of the country’s system of government.”

“The next government will not simply face the challenge of reviving Britain’s stuttering economy and its struggling public services, it will also need to address the concerns of a public that is as doubtful as it has ever been about the trustworthiness and efficacy of the country’s system of government,” he added.

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Professor Curtice said: “Addressing some of the policy challenges will help in that endeavour. However, it is likely to require much more than that, in particular, a style and manner of governing that persuades people that the government has their interests at heart after all.”

The study was based on interviews with 5,386 individuals—who responded to letters sent out to addresses across the UK—which were carried out between September and October 2023.

People Struggling Financially Less Likely to Trust Politicians

Among other findings, it suggested 72 percent of those struggling financially “almost never” trust politicians, compared with 49 percent of those who described themselves as living comfortably.

The social attitudes survey has been carried out every year since 1973 but new questions have been added over time.

One of the most revealing results of the survey was the level of dissatisfaction among those who voted in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.

Although Brexit was delivered by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020, it appears Leave voters remain unhappy with the way it has been run since.

Among Leave voters, 48 percent said they “almost never” trust governments, a rise on the 40 percent in 2019 and 76 percent said the system of governing Britain “needs considerable
improvement”, not far short of the 81 percent who said they felt that way in 2019.

Professor Curtice authored the report along with researchers Ian Montagu and Chujan Sivathasan.

Brexit Has Not Had Impact Leave Voters ‘Expected’

They concluded, “Many of those who voted Leave in 2016 feel that Brexit has not had the impact they expected, and that perception has largely reversed the boost to their trust and confidence that was in evidence shortly after the UK left the EU.”

The survey also found:

  • 86 percent of those who are dissatisfied with the NHS believe the system of governing Britain needs considerable improvement, compared with 65 percent of those who were satisfied with the NHS.
  • A record 53 percent now support changing the electoral system to one “fairer to smaller parties.”
  • 49 percent favour some form of devolution for England, a record level.

They said various academic studies suggest there has been a long-term decline in trust in politicians and they said, “allegations of ‘sleaze’ in the 1990s, the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009, and the stalemate over Brexit in the 2017-2019 parliament all seemingly took their toll.”

“Although many people may have trusted the decisions that the government made during the pandemic and followed the guidance on social distancing … the revelation that the public health regulations had not been adhered to within Downing Street itself might have had a corrosive effect,” they added.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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