Alongside their assessments of how much influence the public generally and they specifically have over the political system, and their view of how much attention politicians would pay to them, we can also consider whether people think their representatives are in touch with the public. The idea that MPs are out of touch is commonplace and, in that light, the survey asked whether people think that they lose touch before they are elected, after, or that they remain in touch.
Figure 1 (above, using weighted data) shows that a large majority, exceeding eight in ten people (85.8%), are sceptical about whether MPs are in touch with the public. Almost half of people (48.6%) are charitable enough to think that MPs lose touch after they are elected, which points towards a process whereby being inducted into Parliament and the role of being a representative disconnects one from the general public. Approaching four in ten (37.2%) are more sceptical and think that the people who become MPs were never in touch with the public, which points towards a process whereby a socially distinct group of people are disproportionately likely to become elected representatives. This leaves one in seven people (14.2%) who think that MPs remain in touch with the public once elected.
Overall, then, the public generally view MPs as out of touch, but they differ over whether this is because they are a socially distinct group who were never in touch or because they become detached from the public once they pick up the norms of behaviour amongst elected representatives. Assuming that the public are right that MPs are out of touch, this distinction is important because the different views point to different solutions. If MPs are out of touch because they are socially distinct then more needs to be done to recruit representatives who reflect the diversity of the population. By contrast, if the problem is the norms they learn once elected then more needs to be done to change the institutions that they are inducted into. Of course, these solutions are not mutually exclusive, and it might be that both perspectives indicate part of the problem. Whatever the solution, given the divide in people’s perspectives, it is likely that both problems will need to be seen to be addressed.