Hearing from ‘Missing Voices’ – confusion, frustration and hope in Welsh politics

Jess Blair reflects on the results of Wales’ largest ever in-depth survey on how people feel about politics in Wales.

“What does politics mean to you?”

It’s a tough question, and even more difficult to answer in ten words or less. But it’s precisely this question (among many others) that over 800 people across Wales answered as part of our ‘Missing Voices’ project which reports back today.

‘Missing Voices’ has been an attempt to understand what people across Wales feel about politics beyond the ballot box. To do this we ran a series of focus groups, spanning across Wales, and a wide-scale survey.

Our focus groups deliberately tried to reach those who wouldn’t normally take part in this type of project, and saw us visiting 20 different places, from a Zumba group in Hirwaun to talking to amateur actors auditioning for the local panto in Criccieth. In total over 850 people directly inputted into the project – and we spoke to many more.

What we found was a real mixed bag – but one which makes uncomfortable reading for our political institutions and representatives.

Our report, which is out today (and available here in English and here in Welsh), has identified three key themes from what people have told us: confusion, frustration, and hope.

And while these themes will not necessarily be news to a lot of people, we now have a much deeper understanding of what exactly has led to these feelings.

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Confusion and a lack of understanding and engagement with Welsh politics was a significant issue throughout the project. People spanning different generations told us about their uncertainty around what they were voting for and policy and politics at a Welsh level in particular. When asked “What does politics mean to you?” many of the responses summed up this issue:

“I’m not as passionate as I should be and I believe that is down to my lack of knowledge”

“I’m unsure & confused, therefore uninterested sadly.”

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The political climate has played a role in many feeling distrustful and frustrated with politics, with responses to the survey and focus groups referencing the expenses scandal, tax evasion and recent allegations of sexual harassment in politics.

A perceived divide between politics and people also emerged, with many not feeling represented by their elected politicians.

“I don’t do politics, I hate it.”

“Politicians promise the world and deliver nothing. Very little change.”

But it’s not all bad news. Across Wales we also found a lot of hope, particularly following a General Election where turnout increased, especially among young people.

“Politics is life, its effects my life and those around me. You can’t turn a blind eye and ignore it, issues need to be addressed, voices need to be heard. There’s a real shift in the way ‘young’ people like me see ‘politics’ and it’s good. There is a revolution coming,” said one person responding to our survey.

And there’s a high degree of confidence in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of democracy in Wales – even if that doesn’t feed through to engagement or understanding. 89% are confident our polling stations are well-run. But when it comes to having a voice, 38% are not confident they ‘can really change the way things are run.’

What the participants in this project have shown us is that there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future, there are serious issues that need to be addressed before we can have a fully functioning and healthy democracy.

It is clear that political education, at a school level and beyond, is not providing the electorate with all the information they need. And for many, there is a huge chasm between real life and politics – and a lack of effective communication from different levels of government is perpetuating this.

Our next steps at ERS Cymru are to take what people have told us and shape it into a strategy that can bring politics and people together. We’ll be starting in January with a project looking at improving political education across Wales and tackling the information deficit that seems to be affecting so many people.

‘Missing Voices’ has given us one of the most in depth insights to date into what people think and we should not overlook that. Now our institutions and representatives must adapt to make sure these voices are properly heard.

Credit: Ilustrations are by Laura Sorvala at Auralab

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Jess Blair is Director of ERS Cymru

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