During the 2024 general election campaign, we will be convening a 32-person “citizens’ conversation”, an ongoing panel of the public to understand how attitudes towards political trust change throughout the pre-election period. Citizens’ conversations are a model we are developing to deepen insights from ordinary focus groups by reconvening the same group of citizens over longer periods of time to understand how attitudes change. We will also use reactive instant messaging with participants, interviews and additional polling to further understand the public’s immediate reactions to the big election stories as they happen. This citizens’ conversation project is called Trustwatch 2024.

In this initial briefing paper, we find that, contrary to politicians’ rhetoric, the public has little trust in the power of elections to deliver the changes they feel the country needs. Our Trustwatch panel feel politicians need to do more to show they are acting in the public interest rather their own. However, they also recognise the thorny challenges and tensions that politicians must navigate during election campaigns. Elsewhere, our panellists shared differing views on the qualities they want politicians to exhibit during campaigns – some feel charisma engenders trust, whereas others have learnt to treat big characters with suspicion.

Our Trustwatch 2024 panel – members of the public from various socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic groups, ages, political perspectives, and parts of the UK – will share their thoughts on key campaign moments as they happen throughout the campaign. The panel will then reconvene after the election to reflect on the extent to which politicians, the media and other actors have acted in a way that has engendered trust in the election, and what might be done to improve political trust going forward.