Power and voice

Democracy is predicated on the idea that every individual, no matter what their background or personal circumstances, should have an equal opportunity to have a say in decisions about the country’s future.

In practice, some groups of people are less likely than others to exercise their democratic right to vote; less likely to attain elected office; less likely to feel able to influence decisions in their local area; and less likely to take part in other forms of political or civic activity.

Women are slightly more likely to vote than men, but despite some progress towards parity, the proportion of women in elected office in Westminster remains below 25%. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are closer to gender parity, but in all three nations, local councillors are also predominantly male.

In the Westminster Parliament, despite some evidence of progress, most religious and ethnic minorities are still under-represented. However, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people, and some people from ethnic and religious minorities, are more likely to take part in other forms of political or civic activity and more likely to feel able to influence local decisions.

People with a disability or a long-term limiting illness are generally less likely than those without to say that they can influence local decisions, and a majority of polling stations at the last election presented at least one significant access barrier.

Young people are less likely to vote than older people. They are also less likely to hold elected office. The average age of councillors, and of MPs, has increased slightly in recent years.

Finally, people’s socio-economic background affects their sense of power and voice. Professionals are more likely to vote, more likely to hold elected office, and more likely to feel that they can influence local decisions than people from lower occupational groups.

Significant findings and headline data

Last Updated: 05 Oct 2010