Without sufficient public engagement in political processes, sections of society begin to lose interest and confidence in the system, not only giving rise to a democratic deficit but also contributing towards greater concerns of social stagnation.
As it stands, the public’s level of engagement within politics is rather low. The recent local elections illustrate this, which reflected the national tone. For example, Wirral Borough Council was left without an overall majority, Labours presence in Liverpool was marginally reduced whilst the Conservatives lost 19 seats in their Cheshire East constituency.
With a voter turnout of approximately 34% for Cheshire East, it’s apparent that large divisions of society aren’t only politically inactive, but socially disengaged from their communities.
Nationally, the Conservative Party struggled to remain united under the mounting political pressures; only 25% of the public have confidence in MPs’ handling of Brexit, with a staggering 75% saying the main political parties are so divided within themselves that they cannot serve the best interests of the country. This resulted in Teresa May resigning and a leadership contest between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt emerging.
Since this was a leadership election and not a general election, the public were not able to vote. Instead, the decision remained in the hands of 159,000 conservative party members. Receiving support from 92,153 members, Boris Johnson became not only the Conservative Party Leader but Prime Minister. However, the 92,153 votes Boris Johnson received translate to approximately 0.13% of the British population, verifying the extent of public disengagement throughout politics. It is of no wonder that 47% of voters feel they have no influence at all over national decision-making. Political parties need to re-engage the public so they feel they have a voice in society.
Having only been used since the 1990’s, the phrase ‘public engagement’ is moderately new. It is considered a process in which people can mutually address contemporary issues within society to make positive changes.
Effective public engagement invites citizens to involve themselves within the deliberation and dialogue of decision-makers, in order to better understand the perspectives, opinions and concerns of citizens and stakeholders.
Within politics, public engagement is often used to combat voter apathy, enable citizens to express their opinions and encourage engagement in the political processes of the country. Public engagement can be considered a way of gaining knowledge and sharing new ideas with others.
Once the issue at hand has been recognised, approaches to increase public engagement can be identified. Lobbying local councillors and distributing newsletters and leaflets are quick and easy methods of information sharing, however these approaches often fail to engage the youth; statistically this group is the least engaged in politics. It is therefore recognised that social media campaigns are most effective in targeting the youth. According to Pew Research Centre, 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and 70% use social media multiple times per day. Furthermore, by incorporating public engagement methods into schools, businesses and local communities, political apathy can be tackled from the bottom-up.
It’s always important to outline specific groups you want to influence. Once this has been decided, it will become easier to tailor relevant activities towards them. To facilitate this process, you should have a clear understanding of the reasons why you feel this group should be targeted.
To increase the chances of involvement throughout the process, involve the target audience from the beginning. This way, they will feel more involved and could even help you market it.
Ensure the event is planned thoroughly, with leaflets and social media coverage if necessary. Planning in advance is necessary to ensure the project is covered by the budget and fits into the time frame.
Tailor your marketing strategy to your target audience. For example, to engage young people into politics, it may be useful to place a heavy emphasis on social media rather than leaflets.
Determine the habits of your target audiences, if it is the youth then it may be worth organising talks within schools to ensure high attendance rates.
Public engagement is important to allow and promote the involvement of all sectors of society within a particular field. In terms of politics, it is important to outline approaches to political involvement that targets a variety of age groups. Whilst it is important to seek new methods of engagement targeted towards encompassing the younger audience, since it will ultimately be this age group affected most by key decisions, it is as equally important to maintain the older generation’s involvement in politics to ensure an accurate reflection of the country when it comes to voting.
By carrying out the correct approach to targeting the youth, public engagement can be considered an effective tool in stimulating interest in particular fields and potentially opening up career opportunities. In turn, this is likely to have a knock-on effect throughout society as a whole since citizens will become more educated and engaged.
Social media is an effective tool in increasing political engagement in youths as it’s more accessible and influential than traditional measures, such as newspapers. Given the scope of people it can reach, it opens up possibilities for political debate with other like-minded individuals, further developing the level of engagements.
The political process and public engagement ought to work hand in hand. However, acknowledging the degree of detachment throughout the public domain, it becomes apparent that the development of crucial engagement strategies is necessary to re-legitimise the political process and unite the country.
Divisive political issues such as Brexit inevitably spark intense debate, however learning how to manage these divisions within the public sphere can help present a much more united front.
Inclusive public engagement aspires to involve the community in the decision-making process, giving people more of a participatory role in consultations and projects. Influential work alongside you to develop public engagement strategies that empower people and communities, creating people-centred research and experience-based feedback.