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Do you trust politicians?

Posted on 31/03/2010

Will the perception of MPs affect how many people turn out to vote?

Attitudes towards politicians and their level of honesty and integrity have changed surprisingly little despite the high profile MPs′ expenses scandal of May 2009 according to a new study by researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Essex.

The research – carried out by Dr Nicholas Allen from the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway and Dr Sarah Birch from the Government Department at the University of Essex – involved a survey of more than 1,000 people before the scandal broke in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ last year and then a follow-up survey of the same people six months later.

Participants in the study were asked a range of questions about the overall standards of honesty and integrity of politicians today. At both points in time, respondents had a generally unfavourable view of politicians: 65.9% believed standards were ‘somewhat low’ or ‘very low’ in the first survey compared with 67% who held the same view a few months later.

In both surveys, respondents were also asked to score 0-10 on how much of a problem they thought the misuse of official expenses and allowances was. Before the expenses scandal, the average score was 8.82. Afterwards, it was actually slightly less, 8.13, reinforcing the message that, while most people are generally distrustful of politicians, the well-publicised scandal has not altered people′s attitudes that much.

This point was reiterated by responses to a question that asked whether people had changed their minds about the honesty of British politicians in the wake of the expenses scandal. Over half claimed that the expenses scandal did not affect their opinion of MPs’ integrity one way or another. Some 17.5% said that they thought most MPs were honest and trustworthy before the scandal and still thought most MPs were honest and trustworthy. But a far larger proportion, 38.9%, said they thought that most MPs were dishonest and untrustworthy before the scandal and that they still held this opinion.

The researchers say the results suggest people have simply got used to the idea of wrong-doing politicians. The same participants will be surveyed again next month as part of the ongoing research project.


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