Does Britain care about freedom? New survey reveals sharp, deep political divides

We are all obsessed with which party is getting what share of the vote – both now and at the next UK election – but what are the fundamental values driving British public opinion? In a major new survey Dr Frank Luntz, the world’s leading expert on political language and communication, has worked with the Centre for Policy Studies to map the British public’s attitudes to the Big Six national priorities: freedom, fairness, security, equality, prosperity and opportunity.

His headline findings are:

  • Britain is divided into three roughly equal parts. One-third feel freer today than ten years ago, a third feel less free, and a third see no change
  • Britons overwhelmingly believe that Britain is a free country. In fact, they consider it the freest in the world. The US only finishes 5th
  • By a margin of 73-27, they believe more freedom will be better for them than more government. Some 86% said freedom was very important to them personally
  • But freedom for freedom’s sake is not as compelling a narrative in the UK as it is in the USA. In the UK, freedom is something personal rather than philosophical or theoretical. It’s about having control of your own life and being free to make your own choices
  • For Conservative voters, security and freedom are the most important of the values we tested. For Labour voters, it is fairness and equality
  • Tory voters believe prosperity is the most important value for the UK’s future success. Labour voters believe it is equality
  • Overall, equality was the most polarising value. 32% of Conservatives thought equality was the least important to them personally, while only 16% of Labour voters agreed
  • Prosperity is viewed as the most important value for the UK’s future by 23% of voters – but as the least important value by 22%. This finding is also hugely polarised by party
  • It’s not just that the UK priorities are different depending on UK political loyalties. The words that work best sharply diverge as well

The survey, ‘The Language of Freedom’, also contained some worrying findings for those who value freedom in general and economic freedom in particular. 

While 52% of people believe national government should take the lead in protecting their freedoms, only 27% believe it is most likely to do so. Perhaps surprisingly, more people associate the Labour Party with freedom (28%) than the Conservatives (20%).

On economics, voters still believe that capitalism is a better system than socialism – but this is hugely polarised by party. Only one-third (35%) feel capitalism is the economic system is most likely to make them richer.

Attitudes are also sharply influenced by the party in government: Tories tended to feel their freedom was most at threat from crime, antisocial behaviour and migration, while Labour supporters chose politicians and government bureaucrats. Tory voters were also much more likely to trust the country’s leaders and institutions, and to believe the Government tends to give freedom (63%) rather than taking it away (37%). For Labour voters, the proportion was almost exactly the reverse.

There was also encouraging news for those who support housebuilding, with 71% of voters saying building homes so people have the freedom to live where they want was more important than the freedom to prevent building in your community (29%).

The survey was a follow-up to Dr Luntz’s previous polling work for the CPS, on the new language of British politics, which is summarised here.

Dr Frank Luntz, Visiting Academic Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, said:

‘I came to the UK to leave behind the painful political polarisation in American life, but it has followed me here. 

‘The party divides in the UK are, in some cases, just as severe as in the United States. For example, no value elicits more disagreement than equality. To Labour voters, nothing matters more to the country’s future than equality. To Conservatives, nothing matters less.

‘Similarly, Conservatives prioritize security over all other values in their own lives, yet Labour ranks security behind fairness, equality and freedom. Every way you look at it, the public sees these crucial priorities not just as different sides of the same coin but as different coins altogether. 

‘Political and business leaders face an impossible task in speaking effectively to the whole country when the research shows their priorities and values are diverging across the board. The words that work are so different because the values themselves are so different.’

Robert Colvile, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, added:

‘While we may think about freedom in different ways from our friends in the United States, it still very much resonates in people’s personal lives.

‘However, it is shocking to discover the extent to which voters do not prioritise prosperity at a national level – 36% say prosperity is the least important value for them. Economic growth is the vital prerequisite for delivering on any other priorities, but voters are clearly speaking a different language – not only to elected officials but to each other.’



  • Dr Frank Luntz is a leading expert on political language and communication and is a Visiting Academic Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • For media inquiries please contact Emma Revell on [email protected] or 07931 698246 or Josh Coupland on [email protected].  
  • The full results of ‘The Language of Freedom’ can be viewed here.
  • The insights are the results of a nationwide survey of 1,500 registered voters conducted online between June 5-7 2023. The demographic samples were modelled to reflect turnout in the 2019 General Election, accounting for gender, geography, age, education, income, among other variables.

Date Added: Tuesday 20th June 2023