Another facet of people’s assessments of the political system is whether they think elected representatives will pay attention to concerns that they raise. This can be thought of as another feature of external political efficacy, but focused on the individuals who populate the political system rather than the system itself. It may also relate to internal political efficacy, in the sense that people who are confident in their own ability to navigate politics are more likely to think that their concerns will be listened to. To get at these assessments, the survey asked how much attention respondents thought their local councillor would pay to a complaint about something the council was doing, and how much attention they thought their local MP would pay to a complaint about a national political issue.
Figure 1 (above, using weighted data) shows that people’s assessments differ somewhat by level of government. At both local (panel A) and national (panel B) level, a similar sized plurality think that their representative would pay a little attention to their complaint (43.8% and 39.6% respectively). At local level, however, a third (35.4%) think that their councillor would pay hardly any (29.0%) or no (6.4%) no attention to them, whilst a fifth (20.8%) think that they would pay quite a lot (18.1%) or a great deal (2.7%) of attention. By contrast, people think that their national representatives will pay less attention to them: more than two fifths (46.5%) think that their MP would pay hardly any (33.9%) or no (12.6%) attention to their complaint, whilst one in seven (13.8%) think that they would pay quite a lot (11.8%) or a great deal (2.0%) of attention.
Overall, people tend to think that their representatives will pay little or no attention to their complaints, and this is especially so in relation their MPs. This can be read both as a pessimistic view of the functioning of the political system and characteristics of those who populate it, and as a realistic judgement regarding the time, energy, and resources available to representatives. It is, after all, probably right that councillors and MPs only give a little attention to each of the thousands of pieces of correspondence that they receive. Perhaps, then, it would have been better to ask people the extent to which they think a complaint they make would be taken seriously by their elected representatives. Nevertheless, few people are under any illusion that their representatives, and especially their MPs, have a great deal of attention to pay their individual complaints.