An important component of people’s perceptions of politics is their view of how open and responsive the political system is to influence by the public. This can be thought of as a key facet of the efficacy of the political system, and views on it are referred to as views on external political efficacy. This is contrasted with internal political efficacy, which refers to people’s views of how able they, personally, are to engage with and influence the political system. The survey asked about both external and internal political efficacy and, as we will see, the answers relating to each are rather distinct in their distributions.
As we can see in Figure 1 (above, using weighted data), people generally perceive that the public have little or very little influence on the political system and they become more sceptical about the influence of the public as we move from the local to the national level. Two fifths of people (42.5%) think that the public have a little bit of influence at local level (panel A), whilst a further two fifths (42.7%) think that they have hardly any or no influence. At regional level (panel B), less than two fifths (36.5%) think that the public have a little influence whilst more than half (55.4%) think that they have hardly any or none. By the time we get to national level (panel C), only slightly more than a quarter (26.2%) think that the public have a little bit of influence whilst two thirds (66.1%) think that they have hardly any or none.
Overall, then, people do not think that the public have very much influence on the political system, and it is notable that the no more than on in six (14.7%, at the local level) ever say that the public have quite a lot or a great deal of influence. This assessment may be particularly stark given that samples drawn from online panels of voluntary respondents tend to be more political engaged than the population, and therefore we might expect them to be more positive about the functioning of the political system. That said, perhaps their greater engagement with politics actually exaggerates their scepticism. Either way, the widespread view that the United Kingdom’s democracy, which is generally supposed to be guided by the wishes of its citizens, is not especially open to influence by the public collectively is something of a sobering observation.