Don’t Know devolution generation

Lleu Williams on new polling research that shows young people are more turned off by politics in Cardiff Bay

As a part of their work for this year, Ein Dyfodol / Our Future  – the young people engagement element of the UK Changing Union project – wanted to find out what were the attitudes of young people in Wales towards devolution. The culmination of this work, conducted by Professor Roger Scully of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, being launched at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh today, has thrown up some interesting results, as shown in the following tables.

Figure 1: Constitutional preference by age (%) 2012

The first result is in relation to what are the current attitudes of young people towards devolution. As you can be seen from Figure 1, younger voters (aged 18-35) are much more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option than older voters (aged 36 and older). Older voters are much more likely to choose ‘No devolution’, ‘More powers’ and even ‘independence’. Professor Scully notes that whilst the table suggests little difference in overall support for devolution, the distinction is that older voters have more clearly established views.

Figure 2: Constitutional preference by age (%)  1997

Figure 3: Constitutional preferences by age (%) 2011

The second interesting result is in relation to the changes in attitudes over time towards devolution. As can be seen from Figure 2, in 1997 younger voters were much more likely to support independence, whilst older voters were likelier to reject devolution outright. But if you compare these with the attitudes from 2011 in Figure 3, opposition to devolution drops and support for a parliament grows significantly. But as Professor Scully points out, younger voters are still more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option.

While Professor Scully concludes that, on the whole, younger voters were more likely to support devolution in 1997, there now appears to be little difference between older and younger members of the electorate. Furthermore, Scully again emphasizes that younger voters are notably more likely to choose the ‘Don’t Know’ option, something that he believes reflects the lower levels of engagement with ‘conventional politics’ amongst young voters.

This is the first research of its kind conducted in Wales and reaffirms the fears about apathy towards mainstream politics amongst young people that many academics have suggested for a number of years. Its important that this democratic deficit amongst the “devolution generation” is tackled now. After all, this is the generation, whose lives have been affected more than any other by devolution.

The report Attitudes of Young People Towards Devolution in Wales will be launched at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh today at 2pm at Cymdeithasau 1. The launch will include contributions from Lleu Williams, Manon George (Wales Governance Centre), Owain Phillips (ITV Wales) and Catrin Dafydd (dramatist and author). The report is available in Welsh here and in English here

Lleu Williams is the UK Changing Union Project Coordinator, based at the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Know devolution generation

  1. What effect have ‘unifying’ British projects such as the jubilee, Olympics, royal wedding and royal baby over the last two years had I wonder? Are the young more susceptible to that sort of mass-media subliminal messaging? Difficult to know I imagine until this data can be isolated, but only time and future polls can provide that. Unless of course British-unity projects of that kind are sustained at similar levels of prominence and public awareness indefinitely, in which case their effect on opinion cannot be isolated statistically…

  2. That most young people are ignorant and apathetic about public affairs has been a frequent complaint in different times and places throughout recorded history, so it is hardly surprising that the same is true of Wales in the current situation.

    Nor is the weakness of Unionism among the young a great surprise, given that most have not been exposed to the alternatives to the prevailing dogma of devolution. There is simply no organised Opposition to the all-powerful alliance of the mainstream media in Wales, three-and-a-half of the four main political parties, tame academia, the trades unions, and the Assembly’s own PR machine. Against all that it takes a particularly strong-minded youngster to work out a Unionist position for himself.

  3. @John- I find your comments to be from a single perspective and you seem to refuse to accept that anyone else’s ideology is correct- unless they’re a unionist. I find it very difficult to accept your suggestion that you have to be ‘strong-minded’ to work out a unionist position for yourself. From my experience the exact opposite is true. I was taught little about Welsh history, devolution or Welsh politics in general, Welsh geography, Welsh literature, in fact nothing I was taught (having left school in 2008) had a Welsh stance on it or a local perspective. Most people I know my age are not interested in politics or a not nationalists at all, so your comment that unionism is weak due to the one-sided Establishment is not true. I had to find my own to politics through my own learning about Wales, its past and present and as a result I became a Welsh Nationalist by conviction.

    There is no carving out of a Unionist mindset and neither do young people have to swim against the tide to be a British nationalist. In fact from experience it was the exact opposite and as a result I believe I’m as strong-minded with a self-formed political conviction, just as any unionist you know.

  4. Perhaps they genuinely ‘don’t know”?

    If you happen to be a young person growing up in one of those many Welsh homes that prefers to watch Sky News, chooses to listen to commercial or non-Welsh radio stations, buys only London published newspapers etc. It’s very unlikely you would form any sort of opinion on Welsh devolution, or have the slightest idea about what it actually means.

  5. Glen 10:25

    Indeed, Glen. Completely agree.

    Contrary to JWR’s fears, the prevailing wind of youth opinion, the nation’s mood music, is a rather bland, uninformed, Anglo-American British unionism played out on the One Show, Britain’s Got Talent and the Only Way is Essex. And that’s before you get to Sky and the rolling tele-purchase channels. The media universe that Welsh consumers engage with is overwhelmingly ‘British’ (which nowadays means Anglo-American).

    As Ben suggested, a sort of bland, inoffensive ‘Britishism’ is the default cultural environment for the majority of our young people. Any engagement with or commitment to Welsh regionalism or political nationalism is a choice, normally against the grain.

    My only question was whether the significant difference in the polls between 2011 and 2013 (as opposed to an on-going trend before or after that) was the result of the exceptional ‘presence’ of Britishness in the media universe during that period (jubilee, marriages, babies, helicopter rescue series, Olympics, etc.), and whether these things have a disproportionate influence on the young. I rather suspect they do. I rather suspect the UK Government and Buckingham Palace know that they do. Congratulations are in order therefore…

  6. No party is obliged to have a position on devolution, let alone unionism. As it happens all the four major parties are supportive of devolution in Wales, presumably because that reflects the wishes of their members and the settled will of the Welsh electorate.

    This is more than ‘compensated’ by the overwhelmingly unionist or English / British Nationalist media, in print, TV, radio or via the web.

    I suspect it takes a bit of thinking for yourself and looking beyond the daily media ‘noise’ to adopt a supportive stance towards devolution, let alone more profound measures such as federalism or independence. So, I suspect that a lot of people have been doing a lot of thinking since 1979.

  7. Ben, an opinion is, by definition, that which one believes to be correct; logic therefore dictates one must believe the opposite opinion to be incorrect. There is no getting around that. What matters is to be prepared to hear and consider those opposite opinions, and not view or treat those who hold them with any less respect if one must continue to disagree.

    It might surprise you that many of us on the Unionist side feel the emotional appeal of Welsh Nationalism just as strongly as you do. It is only when one considers the practicalities, especially in the light of experience, that the dangers become apparent, unless there are fundamental changes in the attitudes of the majority of Welsh people and the Welsh political class.

    What we can agree is that it takes a positive effort to find out about our Welsh heritage and history. It was even worse growing up in the 1970s when it seemed that the education system made a positive effort to put inquiring minds off everything Welsh.

    Phil Davies is right that our dominant culture Anglo-American, with the emphasis increasingly on the American, but the practical effect of this in terms of politics is that the attitude of the London media towards Scottish and Welsh Unionism is not support but near-total disinterest.

    The ‘nation’s mood music’ – great expression by the way – does not necessarily translate into a specific political agenda. In the case of contemporary British ‘patriotism, ’its defining feature is its blandness.

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