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29 November, 2009

Young people are not getting the political education that they want

Financial crisis has increased young people's interest in politics - but they aren't getting the economic and political education that they want.

A poll carried out in November by YouGov on behalf of the Citizenship Foundation to be launched at the Foundation's 20th anniversary reception has found that:

  • 64 per cent of young people intend to vote when they are eligible to do so[1];
  • The recession, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the MPs' expenses scandal are the issues that have increased their interest in politics;
  • Young people are most likely to learn about politics online, rather than at school or college or from their families;
  • They want more school time spent on politics, economics and the law.

Chief Executive of the Citizenship Foundation, Dr Tony Breslin, commented on the results of the survey:

‘This poll demonstrates unequivocally that young people want to learn more about politics, law and economics and they want their schools and colleges to help them do so. In light of this research, those schools or colleges that have neglected or marginalised the Citizenship curriculum - or those who would advocate doing so - must think again. But securing every young person's right to good Citizenship Education isn't a job just for educators: politicians from all parties must also recommit to Citizenship Education in the build-up to the forthcoming election to ensure that we don't lose the ground we have gained since Citizenship became statutory in 2002.'

The poll, commissioned by the Citizenship Foundation to mark its 20th year, investigated nearly 4000 young people's attitudes towards political participation, politicians and power in the UK.


Far from being apathetic, most young people intend to vote when they are able to and a political party's position on particular issues is what most (73 per cent) will base their decision on when it comes to a General Election. Young people want to learn more about politics and economics and identify these as areas of understanding that schools should do much more to develop.

The recession is the issue of late that has most increased young people's interest in politics, the poll found, suggesting that young people are sensitive to current affairs. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the MPs' expenses scandal came in near-equal second as issues that have inspired young people to care about politics.

When asked which issues young people are most likely to campaign on, there was a clear majority for international problems (35 per cent), followed by local
(25 per cent) and national issues (22 per cent).


The respondents stated that the top three qualities they rate most highly in politicians are honesty and trustworthiness (61 per cent), a willingness to speak out on controversial issues (49 per cent) and a clear commitment to particular policies (37 per cent).

But they do not identify these qualities as common in politicians today: 90 per cent of young people surveyed feel that some or most politicians do not give straight answers to questions. 44 per cent think that some or most politicians accept bribes, 85 per cent perceive politicians to have misused official expenses and allowances and 88 per cent think politicians make promises they can't keep. It is not surprising that the majority of young people surveyed - 67 per cent - do not trust Westminster's politicians.

However, despite their dim view of politicians, given the chance young people would not vote for charities (such as Oxfam and Amnesty International) or celebrities to lead the country over mainstream parties. The X Factor judges - if they were to form their own political party - would fare particularly poorly with young people: 85 per cent would be unlikely to vote for Simon, Louis, Dannii and Cheryl, appearing to prefer traditional politicians leading the country.


Young people are clear on who they see as influential: business, politicians and the press, but have little trust in any of these. They see the media as especially influential (particularly in regards to government decision-making) but they do not trust the press, especially the tabloid press. This is in stark contrast to the group that 72 per cent of young people surveyed believe should have the most power over government decisions: the public.

The Citizenship Foundation's 20th birthday

To celebrate its 20th birthday the Citizenship Foundation will hold a special event at the Law Society on 30th November 2009, marking two decades of the Foundation's work to encourage and enable individuals to engage effectively in their communities and in democratic society at large. The event will showcase the charity's education and active learning projects, as well as its vision for the future in light of the research conducted on behalf of the Citizenship Foundation by YouGov.

The newly appointed Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement, Dawn Butler MP, and the Shadow Attorney General, Edward Garnier QC MP, will speak at the reception on the importance of citizenship and public legal education for young people.

Further information

To find out more please email:

Notes for editors:

Media contact

Weekend: Tony Breslin, tel: 07973 885 915 or 0208 950 8779 or tony.breslin@googlemail.com

Weekday: Emma Doyle at the Citizenship Foundation, tel: 020 7566 4134 or email emma.doyle@citizenshipfoundation.org.uk

Notes to Editors:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,994 14 - 25 year olds. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 25th November 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of 14 to 25 year olds based on age, gender, region and student status.

The full results from the survey can be accessed here from midday on Sunday, 29 November: http://www.yougov.co.uk/extranets/ygarchives/content/pdf/Citizenship_TOPLINES.pdf

Dr Tony Breslin is available for interview. Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudbury OBE) will be available for interview on the evening of 30th November only.

About the Citizenship Foundation

The Citizenship Foundation is an independent education and participation charity (no.801360) which aims to empower individuals to engage in the wider community through education about the law, democracy and society. Founded in 1989, it focuses on developing young people's citizenship skills, knowledge and understanding. Its work includes resources, training, active learning programmes, community projects and research. www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk

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Charity Reg. No. 801360 Company Reg No. 2351363 Registered in England Registered Office as above

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