BSA 41: Damaged Politics?

The impact of the 2019-2024 Parliament on political trust and confidence

This British Social Attitudes chapter examines the impact of the 2019-24 Parliament to the public’s trust and confidence in how they are governed.
Download PDF
Blocks of wood, one has the word 'trust' etched on.


The 2019-24 Parliament has been one of the most politically turbulent and economically challenging of the post-war period. Two Prime Ministers have been brought down, one because of doubts about his honesty and the other after she precipitated a crisis on the financial markets. Meanwhile, at a time when the country was trying to implement Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in a stuttering economy, a cost-of-living crisis, and struggling public services. 

Concern about people’s levels of trust and confidence in how they are governed and by whom is not new. But we may wonder whether the experience of the last five years has served to undermine it further. This chapter examines trends in political trust and confidence during this Parliament and compares them with the experience of previous parliaments from the 1970s onwards. Thereafter it analyses how far the trends it has uncovered can be accounted for by some of the public policy challenges that government has faced, before, finally, discussing the implications for political engagement, attitudes to constitutional change, and support for populism.

Key Findings

Trust and confidence in government are as low as they have ever been

Public trust and confidence has fallen now to record lows across a range of measures:

  • 45% would ‘almost never’ trust British governments of any party to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party, more than ever before.
  • 79% believe the present system of governing Britian could be improved ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’, matching the previous record low in 2019 during the parliamentary stalemate about Brexit.
  • 58% would ‘almost never’ trust politicians of any party in Britain to tell the truth when they are in a tight corner, similar to the 60% recorded in 2009 in the wake of the MP’s expenses scandal.

Trust and confidence has fallen heavily among Leave voters

Trust and confidence rose markedly among Leave voters following the implementation of Brexit. But that pattern has now largely been reversed.

  • 48% of those who voted Leave now say they ‘almost never’ trust governments, even higher than the 40% who did so in 2019.
  • 60% of Leave voters ‘almost never’ trust politicians, almost matching the 61% who did so in 2019.
  • 76% of Leave voters believe the system of governing Britain needs considerable improvement, almost matching the 81% who said so in 2019.

Trust and confidence have been undermined by some of the policy challenges facing government

People struggling financially and those dissatisfied with the NHS have lower levels of trust and confidence in government. 

  • 72% of those who are struggling financially ‘almost never’ trust politicians, compared with 49% of those living comfortably.
  • 86% of those who are dissatisfied with the NHS believe the system of governing Britain needs considerable improvement, compared with 65% of those who are satisfied 

Those with low levels of trust and confidence are more likely to back constitutional change

Support for changing the electoral system and the way in which England is governed has increased and is highest among those with low levels of trust and confidence.

  • A record 53% now support changing the electoral system to one that is fairer to smaller parties. 
  • Support for changing the system is as high as 62% among those who ‘almost never’ trust governments.
  • As many as 49% now favour some form of devolution for England, more than ever before.
  • 56% of those who ‘almost never’ trust politicians support English devolution.