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Why do people go into politics – and why don’t they?

House of Parliament viewed from the River Thames

Gateways and obstacles to participation in politics are being explored by a University of Strathclyde researcher, in a study funded by the British Academy.

Dr Joe Greenwood-Hau has received a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Academy to research public perception of politics and politicians and people’s motivations for getting involved in – or staying out of – political life.

He is one of 36 early career researchers around the UK to be awarded one of the fellowships for new research in the humanities and social sciences. His grant is worth £318,931 over three years.

Dr Greenwood-Hau, of Strathclyde’s School of Government and Public Policy, will be analysing data from interviews he conducted with politicians, campaigners and people with no involvement in politics, as well as survey data. He will also assess attitudes in four countries – the UK, India, Poland and Sweden - towards the types of politicians who people believe represent them and will consider solutions for encouraging greater participation in political activity at different levels.

Dr Greenwood-Hau said: “Some people might not get involved in politics simply because they don’t have an interest in it but there may be others who don’t because they don’t feel able to.

“At the same time, politics is perhaps defined too narrowly; there are some people who are involved in what could be considered political activity but they don’t see it as political themselves. For example, people who get together to tidy up their local park could be seen as doing something political but they might not see it that way.

“When we think of party politics, some could be finding it difficult to get involved in politics; class can be a reason but there can be other factors, like gender or racial inequalities.

“My interviews with members of the public were in 2014-15. This was before the EU referendum so the project looks at political participation in a pre-Brexit context, but it will also extend the focus to perceptions of politicians beyond the UK.”

Funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Postdoctoral Fellowships Scheme is the British Academy’s flagship programme of awards for early career academics based at universities throughout the UK.

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive of the British Academy, said: “The British Academy champions the humanities and social sciences and supporting the next generation of academics is crucial to ensuring these disciplines’ future health and vitality. These awards provide talented scholars with the independence to pursue new areas of research and the confidence and skills to advance their careers on solid foundations.

“Many of the scheme’s past awardees have achieved a lasting, positive impact on their specialist fields with research that has remained a touchstone throughout their careers.”