Apathy And A Rise In 'Anti-Politics' Loom Over This General Election

<span class="copyright">Mike Kemp via Getty Images</span>
Mike Kemp via Getty Images

While the major parties are trying desperately to court voters ahead of the general election, there’s a growing risk that the electorate are feeling disillusioned by politics altogether.

Brexit, Covid and the cost of living crisis have significantly altered life in the UK over the last five years – and it seems Brits still do not trust politicians to fix it.

Here’s why pollsters have warned Westminster about a possibility of a low voter turnout.

How many people are registered to vote?

The deadline to register to vote in person in June 18, for a postal vote it’s June 19, and for a proxy vote it’s June 26.

But, as of June 8, one in 10 Brits still had not registered, according to a poll of 1,645 UK adults by Techne for Independent media.

To make matters worse, 20% of those polled have already decided not to vote.

Those in the 18 and 34-year-old age bracket are feeling the most disengaged, with 30% not even registered to vote.

Then there’s the extra barrier of photographic voter ID needed for anyone to be able to cast their vote.

The same poll found 3% said they do not have the correct photographic identification, while 6% don’t know.

What do Brits think of politics in general right now?

According to UK in a Changing Europe, the number of people in the UK feeling “unrepresented” by the major parties is not particularly high compared to the rest of the continent.

However, their report found that Brits tend to think more negatively of the overall political system than our European neighbours.

In fact, even among those who say they are represented by a major party, a whopping 47% say there is no point getting involved in politics.

How many voters are invested in Sunak or Starmer?

According to a poll from Redfield and Wilton Strategies, there are now more voters who say they “don’t know” who they will support at the ballot box compared  to those who will back Sunak.

While 47% of respondents were clear Labour’s Keir Starmer was the best candidate to become prime minister, just 26% said Rishi Sunak – and 29% said they weren’t sure.

While that’s not the first time Sunak has been overtaken by the “don’t know” category according to this tracker, there has been an overall increase in the number of people unsure of how to vote since he got into power.

To make matters worse, viral clips of broadcasters asking members of the public who they support suggest the two leading politicians are still not cutting through.

One woman told ITV that Sunak “hasn’t been prime minister long enough for me to remember”.

Another person told the BBC last week that she did not know who the party leaders are, and though she wanted to vote Labour, she was not sure why.

Do voters feel politically homeless?

As the Conservatives have shifted further right on policies such as migration to avoid losing voters over to the populist Reform, but have struggled to find the right balance with Brexit, the party has been facing criticism from within its own ranks.

A few former Tory MPs have even encouraged voters to back other parties at the ballot box next month.

Meanwhile, Labour have jumped towards the centre to shake off the more left-wing policies of the Jeremy Corbyn era, and have since lost voters around divisive issues such as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, or trans rights.

Among Gen Z and millennials, 38% say they plan not to vote, according to another Techne poll – that’s close to double the country’s average.

Robert Hayward, Tory peer and pollster, told The Independent that even among those who say they intend to vote, there will be people who skip the ballot box on July 4.

He added: “So the 20% figure of those who do not vote will be bigger.”

He continued: “I have felt that we may have a record low turnout because it is clear that a lot of voters look politically homeless.”

Leading polling expert John Curtice also warned the newspaper that the low turnout is a strong possibility – partly because Labour already have such a strong poll lead, but also because the two parties do not seem that different.

“None of the main party leaders are popular or charismatic, which is why Farage can make waves,” Curtice added.

Reform has indeed been creeping up the polls, with pollsters at Redfield and Wilton Strategies concluding Reform UK are on 17% now – while the Tories are on just 19%.

Meanwhile polls at JL Partners said 60% of undecided voters are former Conservative voters.

Is there a trend of being actively ‘anti-politics’?

Speaking to Radio 4′s Today programme, Scarlett Maguire, director at opinion research company, explained: “I do think if we wake up on July 5 and it is a big Labour majority – as I think most people are expecting now – it could obscure something much deeper that is going on.”

She said her company’s research has found there is a “very strong, very pervasive” mood “of anti-politics”.

“That’s part of the reason why the Conservatives are going to get such a kicking,” she said. “I think there are lessons there for politicians to bear in mind when they govern.”

Attacks on the Westminster model are not new, and there were concerns that “anti-politics” would rise in the run-up to the 2019 election after years of Brexit chaos.

However, it turned out to be the second-highest turnout since 1997, and a decrease of only 1.5% percentage points from 2017.