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Research project

Popular understandings of politics in Britain, 1945-2016

Project overview

‘Popular Understandings of Politics in Britain’ was a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and based at the University of Southampton with team members in Geography and Politics. It ran from October 2014 to June 2016. In a context of apparently recent disenchantment and disengagement from politicians, political parties, and elections in Britain, the project aimed to understand better what and how British citizens have thought about formal politics since the Second World War. Here are more details of the project as it was originally conceived:

There is alienation and withdrawal from formal politics in many countries at the present time. In Britain, election turnout, party membership, and trust in politicians are all declining. Projects to renew democracy have struggled because the causes for such disenchantment and disengagement are not clear.

Numerous possible explanations for the rise of anti-politics have been put forward since the 1950s. Partisan dealignment, postmodernisation, the decline of social capital, and consumerisation are examples of social change that have shaped public attitudes towards formal politics. Two-party decline, globalisation, the modernisation of electoral campaigning and media culture illustrate shifts in the political process that have influenced the relationship between citizens and politicians.

This project aims to offer two original contributions to debates in this area: more citizen voices; and analysis of datasets going back beyond the 1960s.

Bringing together human geographers, political scientists, historians and scholars of culture and society, this project explores what and how British citizens have thought about formal politics since the late 1930s.

Objectives include: to establish the range of popular understandings of politics among British citizens; to establish changes in prominence of certain popular understandings over time; and to suggest causes for these changes.

The research will include: a contextual review of existing survey data from Gallup, Ipsos-MORI, and National Opinion Polls; analysis of qualitative data found in the Mass Observation Archive; and integration of this historical research with existing research on political engagement in twenty-first century Britain.


Lead researcher

Dr Nick Clarke

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Political geography
  • Urban geography
  • Governance and citizenship
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Other researchers

Professor Gerry Stoker

Chair in Governance

Research interests

  • 1. Much of Gerry Stoker's intitial work focused on local government and urban politics. Key publications include Remaking Planning, 1989 ( with Tim Brindley and Yvonne Rydin and the single-authored The Politics of Local Government (1988) and Transforming Local Governance (2004) 
  • 2. A broader focus on the concept and practice  of governance is reflected  in various article widely cited articles and co-authored  books published including Towards Holistic Governance(2002), Governance Theory and Practice(2009) and Nuclear Power and Energy Policy. The Limits to Governance(2015) 
  • 3. Contributions to debates about how to conduct political science are reflected in four editions of the edited volume (with David Marsh) Theory and Methods in Political Science (1995, 2002, 2010, 2018)  and a co-edited book The Relevance of Political Science. Articles on developing a design arm or solution-orientation to political science have also been written
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Professor Will Jennings

Associate Dean Research & Enterprise

Research interests

  • Public policy
  • Public opinion
  • Polling
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Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups