This article explores the idea that a citizen's relationship with their polity is contingent on and liable to change under certain conditions. The assessment of the prospects for political reform requires an understanding of the contingent nature of political engagement. Drawing from a survey of a representative sample of Australians three insights emerge. First, although many Australian citizens are not directly engaged in political actions beyond voting most do present a ‘standby’ role that suggests potential to engage. Second, willingness to shift patterns of engagement may depend on general orientations towards the polity and we find extensive evidence of negative understanding of the political system as well as more positive endorsement of representative political practices. Our third finding is that citizens might be prepared to change their relationship with the polity depending on the kind of politics that is offered; hence providing a creative space for political reform.