Politics and participation: Some antecedents of young people's attitudes to the political system and political activity



The antecedents of political disaffection and political activism have been extensively studied in adult populations, producing two models of political protest, the ‘dissatisfaction model’, suggesting that protest action is rooted in political disaffection, and the ‘resource model’ which bases interest in politics in a sense of political self-efficacy. There has been a dearth of research extending this theorizing to young people of prevoting age. The present study presents the results of regression analysis applied to longitudinal data collected in a U.K. Programme of research and economic and political socialization, the ESRC 16-19 Initiative. The analysis relates ‘lack of interest in politics’, ‘intention not to vote’ and ‘political activity’, to attitudes, personality characteristics, experience and circumstances measured earlier. It is concluded that political disaffection including lack of interest and intention not to vote, is strongly associated with a growing cynicism about politics rooted in poor educational performance and a working class family background. The connections with activism are negative but much weaker, suggesting the potential for protest activity across a wider spectrum of youth. This lends support to Marsh's (1990) view that given the right circumstances, protest action under both the ‘resource model’, and the ‘dissatisfaction model’, can apply.