People who won't vote blame distrust in politicians

Lewis Watt
Lewis Watt says he has never voted in an election, and does not plan to this time either [BBC]

At Tonyrefail community centre in Rhondda Cynon Taf, among the crowd of people chatting as they waited for their breakfast to be served was 32-year-old plasterer Lewis Watt.

Speaking just a few days before the 4 July general election, Lewis said he has never voted in one before and will not be doing so this Thursday either.

"I’ve got too much going in my life to listen to what’s happening in the Houses of Parliament," said Lewis, whose partner is pregnant with their third child.

Tonyrefail is in the new Rhondda and Ogmore constituency, which under a boundary change includes the old seat of Rhondda. In the 2019 election, Rhondda had a voter turnout of 59%, one of the lowest in Wales and well below the UK average of 67.3%.

"People are struggling with money at the moment, so trying to get jobs and customers for myself to be able to bring the wages in for home, it’s quite difficult there," Lewis said.

"So I’m spending time looking for work or with my family. Because my time is taken up a lot through that, I haven’t got much interest in politics."

The BBC travelled to Rhondda and Ogmore to find out just how engaged voters are this time around, and to understand why people are not interested.

At Scoops and Smiles ice cream parlour in Ferndale, some feel there is nothing for them on the political menu.

Mark Barnes recently moved to the area after a period of homelessness, and said he will not be voting because he has not found a political party that shares his views and concerns.

"They haven’t got anything in the manifesto for people like myself," he said.

Mark Barnes
Mark Barnes, with his daughter Tracey and his grandchildren, also won't be voting in the election [BBC]

"I particularly worry about my grandkids’ futures and what they’re going to be doing in 20 to 30 years’ time," he added.

So what would make him vote?

"It would have to be somebody with a track record of carrying out what they say and at the moment I don’t see anybody in Westminster like that," he said.

His daughter Tracey has voted in the past but is also likely to stay home this time.

"I suppose it’s being nervous of just being let down and them not providing what they say they’re going to provide,” she said.

"In the future if a party was to come along and say we’re going to change this, we’re going to make this better for the future of your children... and it actually started happening, then I would more than definitely vote."

Jane Ann Williams and Debbie Bowen sat at a table
Jane Ann and Debbie will both be voting in the election, but generally distrust politicians to keep their promises [BBC]

Back at Tonyrefail's community centre, Jane Ann Williams, 80, and her daughter Debbie Bowen, 62 said they will both be voting - but say this is despite their experience of politicians over the years.

"You can’t criticise if you don’t vote," said Jane Ann.

A candidate who recently visited the centre has won her support, but generally she finds politicians do not deliver on what they promise at election time.

"When they get in they don’t keep the promise. They’re entirely different," she said.

Debbie said she did not think politicians really understand "what people at the bottom go through", and was unimpressed by what she saw of Westminster on television.

"It seems like a big bingo game to me because they’re all talking over each other."

More on general election 2024

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at polling company Ipsos, said while distrust and lack of engagement in politics is nothing new, there are signs that trust in politics was at a particularly low level going into this election campaign.

"Trust in politicians fell to a historic low of 9%," he said.

Mr Skinner said that as well as a record low level in politicians, almost half of those surveyed last year said they "almost never" trust governments of any party to place the needs of the nation first.

He said it was important for politicians to overcome barriers such as "a sense of apathy or disillusionment in the political system", and demonstrate that "political engagement can make a difference and that government and politicians really are listening to what people have to say".