This article adapts and develops the idea of a cynical or ‘stealth’ understanding of politics to explore how citizens’ estrangement from formal politics is processed cognitively through a populist lens. Earlier work has shown the widespread presence of stealth attitudes in the United States and Finland. We show that stealth attitudes are also well established in Britain, demonstrate their populist character and reveal that age, newspaper readership and concerns about governing practices help predict their adoption by individuals. Yet our survey findings also reveal a larger body of positive attitudes towards the practice of democracy suggesting that there is scope for challenging populist cynicism. We explore these so-called ‘sunshine’ attitudes and connect them to the reform options favoured by British citizens. If we are to challenge populist negativity towards politics, we conclude that improving the operation of representative politics is more important than offering citizens new forms of more deliberative participation.