What does Britain really think?
Dr Frank Luntz, the world’s leading expert on political language and communication, has spent the summer working with the Centre for Policy Studies on a landmark survey of the British public’s language and values.
Dr Luntz, a Visiting Academic Fellow at the think tank, has conducted one of the most extensive polling exercises yet seen, uncovering the public’s sentiments on language and values.
His headline findings are:
- Britain is not as divided as America – but an alarmingly large segment of the public is deeply disillusioned.
- Voters are almost as fed up with business as with politicians – presenting a huge challenge for supporters of capitalism and enterprise.
- Tory and Labour supporters are united by their values – but fundamentally split on policies and priorities.
- Concern about climate change is cross-party – but ‘woke’ attitudes are far less mainstream than in the US.
Voters prefer the Tory party of today to its predecessors – but all voters prefer the Labour Party of Tony Blair to that of Starmer or Corbyn.
Britain is not as divided as America – but an alarmingly large segment of the public is deeply disillusioned.
- 43% of Britons feel they are invested in their country, but only 27% feel it is invested in them.
- 70% of respondents said politicians were in it for themselves or their party, with a mere 9% believing they prioritised their constituents.
- The key words people chose to describe their attitudes towards politicians were ‘disappointed’ (40%), ‘ignored’ (36%) and ‘fed up’ (30%). Nine of the top 10 answers were negative, with only 14% saying they made them feel ‘hopeful.’
- Two thirds of respondents agreed that their attitude to politicians was ‘F*** em all’, including 78% of Labour voters and 46% of Conservatives.
- Only 34% of voters think Britain is ‘an exceptional country’ – while as many as 22% think Britain has ‘failed its people’.
Dr Luntz said:
‘These are really alarming findings. Britain isn’t as bad as America – yet. But it’s clear that there are an awful lot of people who feel they’re being ignored. And when people think they’re either “ignored” or “irrelevant”, that’s a crisis.
‘The key thing they want from their politicians is respect and honesty.’
Voters are almost as fed up with business as with politicians – presenting a huge challenge for supporters of capitalism and enterprise.
- When asked to choose the biggest divide was in society, by far the most popular answer was rich vs poor (39%), twice as many as those who chose Brexit or North vs South.
- When asked what words or phrases they thought of first when thinking about British companies, the top answers were ‘Profit over people’ (chosen by 47%), ‘They put shareholders first, not ordinary people’ (44%), ‘Excessive CEO/executive compensation’ (41%) and ‘Avoids paying taxes’ (34%). ‘Creates jobs’ was chosen as one of their top four options by 32% of voters – but was beaten by the first three even among Tory voters.
- However, 55% of voters agree with the statement ‘for the most part, the economic and financial success we have in life is earned and deserved’ and 57% agree that Britain ‘gives people a fair chance to get ahead if they work hard and take responsibility’.
- Voters were also clear that they want business leaders to focus on their workers and customers, not wider social issues. Just 9% of voters said that they should prioritise speaking out on important social issues, and just 10% that companies should express their views on controversial social or political topics.
Dr Luntz said:
‘There is a brewing battle between equality and meritocracy in the workforce right now. At this moment, more people prioritise equality, but this appears to be the next great conflict of the 2020s.’
Tory and Labour supporters are united by their values – but fundamentally split on policies and priorities.
Voters from all parties share common values, identifying ‘trust and integrity’ (chosen by 33%) as one of the values they most prized, ahead of ‘equality’ (26%) and ‘security and stability’ (24%).
Likewise, voters of all parties said the most important objective of government should be ‘protecting the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable’ (40%).
However, Labour voters tend to view policy issues through the prism of equality and identity where Tories focus on security, stability and hard work. Conservative voters were also much more likely to have a positive view of Britain and its future, for example with 51% of Labour voters saying the political system was stacked against them (and 46% the economic system) vs 25% and 26% for the Tories.
Voters on both sides are also deeply concerned about rising crime, with 36% choosing it as one of the issues that worried them most, and passionate about and preoccupied with the NHS. It was named simultaneously as the policy area that had improved most (24%), deteroriated most (30%) and was most in need of reform (43%).
When asked who they think benefits the most from public spending, Labour voters were more inclined to think the wealthy (61%), big business (53%) and politicians (47%) benefit the most. Whereas Conservative voters think benefit claimant (58%) or immigrants and asylum seekers (56%) are the primary beneficiaries of government spending.
Dr Luntz said:
‘There is far more political polarisation in the UK than the US. While the UK right is not as right as America, the UK left is much further left. Most voters are in the sensible centre.
‘But there are remarkably few differences in values between Left and Right. The gaps develop in terms of priorities and policies. Focus on values and you unite the country.’
Concern about climate change is cross-party – but ‘woke’ attitudes are far less mainstream than in the US.
‘Environmentally conscious/committed to a clean, healthy world’ was the third most popular attribute people wanted to see in Britain’s future (35%), after ‘safe and secure’ (44%) and ‘a strong, stable, prosperous economy’ (43%).
After racism (37%) and religious fundamentalism (25%), wokeism was the third most concerning issue out of a list of 18 ideological options.
However, only 18% of respondents consider themselves ‘woke’, whereas 20% said they are not ‘woke’ at all.
Similarly, 39% see ‘cancel culture’ as a ‘bad thing’ which shuts down freedom of speech and honest discussion, compared to 26% who see it as a good thing.
64% think ‘cancel culture has gone too far and that people should be able to express themselves without fear of consequences.
29% of Britons have stopped talking to someone because of something political they said, and 22% have had someone stop talking to them.
Given a forced choice, 37% of voters said the United Kingdom was ‘institutionally racist and discriminatory’, vs 63% who said the UK is ‘a nation of equality and freedom’.
But 41% said that although they accept ‘white privilege’ exists, it ignores the fact that the white working class are among the most deprived in society. 35% of Labour voters agreed with this statement.
Dr Luntz said:
‘There is more that unites the UK than divides it. But different people see the country differently – and the divisions that exist are significant and serious. It will worsen if not given alternative unifying narratives.
‘Fairness and equality are essential British values. Wokeism is dependent upon a belief that Britain is failing in either area. As long as business leaders are seen to be upholding these principles, wokeism won’t take hold.’
Voters prefer the Tory party of today to its predecessors – but all voters prefer the Labour Party of Tony Blair to that of Starmer or Corbyn
- 26% of voters preferred the Conservative Party of today, 25% preferred the party of Thatcher, and 16% chose the party of Cameron. Among Tory voters, the figures were 50%, 26% and 18% respectively.
For Labour, 32% of voters chose the party of Blair, 18% the party of today, and 16% the party of Corbyn. Among Labour voters, the figures were 39%, 30% and 22%.
Dr Luntz said:
‘The key lesson for the conservatives come straight from Labour Language from the Blair years. Your policies need to have a positive impact on everyone, everywhere for anyone, anywhere to pay attention.’
Commenting on the findings, Robert Colvile, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, said:
‘It has been a pleasure and a privilege for us to work with Dr Luntz on his survey. There is so much to dig into in his findings – and much that is both encouraging and concerning. I hope they can help us at the Centre for Policy Studies find new and better ways of showing the public the importance of business, enterprise, opportunity and aspiration.’
Dr Luntz added:
‘President Reagan, in his farewell address to the country, described America as a “shining city on a hill.” It saddens me, but that shine has faded. The US is fractured and whether it can be repaired remains to be seen.
‘The threat of the UK succumbing to the same decline is certainly less severe, but no less significant than what we have witnessed across the Atlantic. This research aims to identify the words and ideas to defend and preserve political and economic freedom, but political and business leaders must heed the lessons from the US to avoid a similar outcome.’
- The full results of ‘Britain Speaks: The New Language of Politics and Business’ can be viewed here.
- The insights are the results of 2 surveys of 1500 interviews each for a grand total of 3000 interviews. The polling was conducted in the UK excluding Northern Ireland. The interviews were conducted online, from June 19-24, 2021. The demographic samples were modeled to reflect turnout in the 2019 General Election, accounting for gender, geography, age, education, income, ethnicity, party identification, among other variables.
- Full data breakdown of the economic and business polling is available here
- Full data breakdown of the political polling is available here
Date Added: Tuesday 6th July 2021