Beyond asking about whether people think politics is for people like them, and whether they think of themselves as political, the survey also asked about whether they are interested in politics. These are all distinct questions, but people’s answers are likely to be closely related. It is worth asking all of them, however, so that we have multiple reference points to estimate people’s levels of political engagement, and so that we can observe the similarities and differences between the answers that they give. For instance, it is possible for someone to think of themselves as political and interested in politics but not think that politics as it is currently practiced is for people like them. Alternatively, people might be interested in politics and think that it is for people like them, but not go so far as to describe themselves as a political person. Thus, overall, whilst we might expect answers to questions about political engagement to vary in line with each other, this will be on average and there will be people who buck the trends.
The questions about interest in politics asked about both the national and the local level. As Figure 1 (above, using weighted data) shows, the distributions of answers differ noticeably depending on the level. More than half of people (50.9%) say that they have quite a lot (37.2%) or a great deal (13.7%) of interest in national politics (panel A), whilst only one in eight (13.6%) say that they have hardly any (9.6%) or no (3.0%) interest. By contrast, for local politics (panel B), a quarter (24.5%) report quite a lot (18.7%) or a great deal (5.8%) of interest but more than a third (35.2%) report hardly any (29.1%) or no (6.1%) interest. In both cases, the middle option (some interest) is selected by a plurality, but slightly more people (40.4%) do so in relation to local politics than national politics (36.5%).
Overall, people are considerably more interested in national politics than local politics, but levels of interest are generally high. Around two thirds of people (64.9%) profess at least some interest in local politics, whilst approaching nine in ten (87.4%) do so in relation to national politics. These figures are almost certainly a reflection of the higher level of political engagement that is observed amongst online panels of voluntary survey respondents, even when a representative sample is drawn from amongst them, than in the general population. It is also the case that some people might feel the need to overstate their interest in politics because it is seen as worthwhile, though this is less likely in an online survey because the urge to conform to social expectations is weaker than when not being asked questions by a person. Nevertheless, we can safely conclude that interest in politics is not niche; a large number of people in the population have at least a moderate interest in the topic. The extent to which this interest translates into political activity remains to be seen and will be investigated subsequently.