Are the young too cynical? Yes

1st August 2003 at 01:00
Opinion polls show that youngsters simply do not trust politicans. Is this disastrous for Britain?

The Government has a problem, especially with young people. Recent MORI research for the Nestle Family Monitor shows that not only does the Government have a credibility problem, so does the media.

Four in 10 of the nearly 1,000 young people aged between 11 and 18 questioned between this March and May said they do not trust ministers to tell the truth; nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) said they do not trust journalists.

By contrast, seven in 10 say they trust teachers, and only one in eight does not. Another good thing is that three in four children trust the police to tell the truth, some 10 points higher than adults.

But the lack of trust in two institutions, Parliament and the Press, is not good for democracy, and not good for Britain.

The views of adults are similarly negative. Three in four have no faith in what politicians or journalists tell them. This lack of trust is not new.

MORI first started tracking how far the public believe what they are told 20 years ago and people were just as cynical about politicians and journalists then. On the other hand, trust in teachers has significantly improved over the years - 87 per cent of the public now trust teachers, compared with 79 per cent then.

The biggest difference between adults and children is in trust in the "ordinary man woman in the street": 53 per cent of adults trust them but only 12 per cent of children. It seems all the warnings about not trusting strangers have borne fruit, but at the cost of making this a less trusting society.

Trust is easily lost but regained with difficulty. The public is fed up with the yah-boo bear-pit of the House of Commons and the "you're all liars" approach of the more confrontational news and current affairs television presenters. Taking responsibility for this image would tackle the "veracity deficit", both with children and adults.

Much time and effort has been expended trying to explain the shock of a 59 per cent turnout at the last election on the part of both politicians and journalists. Only 39 per cent of the 18 to 24-year-old cohort voted.

Of all the studies and analyses carried out since then, little attention has been paid to what I consider the single most important cause of electoral malaise: disengagement. And the root cause of disengagement from democracy is, I believe, a failing trust in those responsible both for acting, and communicating, the political process.

Alan Marsh (right) acknowledges evidence of low levels of confidence in politicians and journalists, but takes a Panglossian view, arguing that recent events have shown young people are as passionate as ever. Yet "political mobilisation" and "schoolchildren pouring on to the street", reflect but a tiny proportion of the disaffected. Most stay at home.

Alan should take off his rose-coloured glasses and join in trying to evolve solutions to the nation's political malaise, not stand by complacently and watch its demise.

Bob Worcester is chairman of MORI. 'Young People's Attitudes Towards Politics' is the 16th issue of the Nestle Family Monitor, a series of studies of aspects of family life in Britain. The research was for the Make Space campaign. Past issues at:

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today