Popular Understandings of Politics in Britain, 1937-2015


Report of Initial Workshop

By UoSAnti-Politics |

The purpose of this workshop was to introduce the project and to invite comments from participants to help guide our research over the forthcoming months. The workshop revealed an interdisciplinary concern with popular understandings of politics by bringing together political scientists, geographers, pollsters and historians

In his introduction, Gerry Stoker asked participants to share their own understandings of anti-politics. The range of responses illustrated the variety of attitudes and behaviours associated with political disengagement, as well as the variety of forms it has adopted over time and between social groups. Gerry proceeded to discuss 12 explanations that could be used to explain the different dimensions of anti-politics.

Slides from Gerry’s introduction

Nick Clarke and Will Jennings went on to outline the project’s aims and methodology. Will explained stage one, which involves the collection and analysis of historical aggregate poll data and survey questions on public attitudes towards politics, parties and politicians; and individual-level data from the BES (1964-2015), BSAS (1983-2014) and other datasets deposited in the UK Data Archive. He discussed some early findings from a recent poll commissioned by YouGov that replicated a survey question asked by Gallup in 1944. The results generated a discussion about the influence of contemporary concerns upon poll questions and the consequences of this for tracing how attitudes have changed over time.

Nick provided an overview of the project’s second stage, which will collect and analyse qualitative data from the Mass Observation archive. He described the directives we would be using, which asked questions such as: ‘Give an account of the development of your feelings about politics and of your political outlook and sympathies’ (November 1950). The workshop concluded with a discussion of some examples of responses to a 1945 directive, which asked: ‘What would you say is your normal conversational attitude when talk gets round to politicians?’ These extracts stimulated a conversation about the different ways that people talk about politics, how this is shaped by different cultural expectations and how this can be related to ritual and behaviour.

Nick and Will’s slides

The research team would like to thank participants for their attendance and very helpful provocations.

Invited Participants
Clive Barnett (University of Exeter)
Jane Green (University of Manchester)
Jon Lawrence (University of Cambridge)
Roger Mortimore (Ipsos MORI)
Laurence Stellings (Populus)
Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite (University of Cambridge)
Andrew Russell (University of Manchester)
Laurence Janta-Lipinski (YouGov)
Matt Ryan (University of Southampton)
Emma Thompson (University of Southampton)


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