Politics and the media: a crisis of trust
Across the seven segments, political optimism is generally low, reaching a peak of 46% among Backbone Conservatives and falling to 4% among Progressive Activists.
This is accompanied by low trust in parliament – from 36% among Backbone Conservatives to 9% among Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists – and in local MPs – from 38% among Backbone Conservatives down to 15% among Established Liberals.
They [the government] need the will to [act on climate] it. And I don't think they’re ever going to have that. Because it’s not politically expedient to do so. So, they’re not going to.”
In the last election there was little choice ... I would like there to be another choice.”
In answer to your question about who you trust, basically nobody because everybody’s got their own agenda. Everybody’s going to be working in their interests. So you just listen to what they say and vote for whoever you think is going to do the best for you.”
Low levels of political optimism and trust are correlated with low levels of political engagement. Although a majority in every segment voted in the last general election, turnout is much lower at local elections, and only a very small number have attended a political meeting or surgery. A majority of Progressive Activists (78%), Civic Pragmatists (59%) and Loyal Nationals (50%) have signed a petition in the past year, but only Progressive Activists consistently follow what’s going on in politics on a regular basis (50%) and share political content online (51%).
I think worrying about the political nuances or whatnot is a short-term thing when, if we destroy the world that we live in, all of the other issues are going to become secondary and meaningless.”
There are a number of potential reasons for this. A majority in every segment are exhausted by the division in politics (60%) and political parties are listed as the top or second-to-the-top cause of the deepest divisions in the UK by all but Backbone Conservatives. Every segment tends to feel politicians don’t care about people like me (77%), and all, except Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives, tend to believe the system is rigged to serve the rich and influential (67%).
A decline in political trust could undermine support for political engagement and the capacity of government to act, ultimately leading to policy inertia or failure. The challenge is to prevent pessimism from generating a feeling of helplessness that could reinforce the idea that we, as a society, are too weak to change “the system” and deal with an issue as systemic as climate change.
People will talk big, make it a big political issue, talk big and do stuff. But there is no actual physical action taking place saying, ‘okay, we are doing this’ or ‘we are supposed to do this’. It doesn’t happen. It won’t happen.”
There is also a pervasive lack of faith in other democratic channels.
People tend to feel more confident (60%) than anxious (40%) about technological change, and their behaviour supports this. Every segment except Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives is more likely to use social media (61%) than watch TV news (54%) or read a newspaper in print or online (38%) on a daily basis. And these channels are – to some extent – competing with more traditional sources of information about government and politics.
However, social media and traditional media are ranked as the second and fourth biggest causes of division in the UK, higher than the class system, the economy and regional tensions. All segments blame the media for making our country feel more divided than it really is (73%) and feel that social media over-represent the most extreme voices (71%). Overall, this is driving high levels of concern about the aggressive tone of public debate in the UK (66%) and the questioning of everything that I see online and in the media (57%).
The way the media spins things … it makes it harder to have constructive conversations.”
You don't know what false news is and what's real. At the moment I don't trust the media for what they're reporting.”
I think the tabloid newspapers are sometimes just so sensationalist, so biased. Their job is to report the truth. They’re journalists.”
It seems to be so difficult to tell what’s real news and what’s fake news these days … I think you have to question everything that you read.”
In this ebbing of trust, which affects people’s views about whether democratic processes designed to empower citizens are working, we see a desire for interventions to strengthen positive outcomes for society. Nearly three-quarters (74%) think governments need to better regulate social media companies, with more than 65% support in every segment.
Race, gender, wealth and geography: framing justice and inequality
People from ethnic minority backgrounds are most represented among Disengaged Battlers (8%), and have the lowest representation among Loyal Nationals and Backbone Conservatives (3.7% and 2.1%). Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the survey sample (5%, compared to a 13% population average in Britain*), but follow-up work has helped build a more representative picture of how ethnicity and cultural background interacts with views on climate change across the seven segments.
We conducted focus groups with respondents who identified as Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) or as being from mixed ethnic backgrounds. The findings largely confirm that the segmentation applies just as well to respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds as it does to the wider sample, and they have been integrated into the toolkit where relevant.
Key differences between those from BAME or mixed backgrounds centred around issues of race and immigration. We also gained insights into how respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds relate to their British identity, in particular Loyal Nationals. This example demonstrates that the segmentation model allows researchers to interrogate a subset of the wider population to find additional nuance.
The under-representation of ethnic minorities is a methodological (and by extension ethical) concern that is problematically reflected in many other ‘nationally representative’ surveys conducted on a variety of social issues. The Britain Talks Climate team has initiated a discussion with the Market Research Society (MRS) to better understand how widespread this concern is and what steps can be taken by market research companies to address it.
It is clear that there is substantial variation in attitudes towards race, racism and immigration. While there is agreement across the segments that a person can be British regardless of their colour, ethnic background or accent (61% ‘strongly agree’, 31% ‘somewhat agree’), the majority tend to feel that British identity is disappearing nowadays (57%), at least among white Britons. A majority of Britons from BAME or mixed race backgrounds tend to agree that British identity is being strengthened through diversity. Across the segments, only a majority of Progressive Activists agree with this statement (70%).
Although every segment agrees that racism (33% ‘very serious’, 44% ‘somewhat serious’) and anti-semitism (25% ‘very serious’, 37% ‘somewhat serious’) are problems facing the UK today, they diverge in their opinions about how to deal with them, and who or what is to blame. Again, there are differences between Britons from BAME and mixed race backgrounds and white Britons: the majority of the latter believe that people are too sensitive about race, whereas the former believe it is not being taken seriously enough.
Only Progressive Activists, Civic Pragmatists and Disengaged Battlers tend to feel that we should acknowledge the mistakes made during the period of the British Empire, with the rest believing that there is no point going over the rights and wrongs of our history.
In terms of present-day privilege and advantage, Progressive Activists, Civic Pragmatists, Disengaged Battlers and Established Liberals tend to feel that white people still have advantages over people from ethnic minorities; whereas Loyal Nationals, Disengaged Traditionalists and Backbone Conservatives tend to believe that white people and people from ethnic minorities are treated the same and have the same opportunities.
The latter three segments see immigration as a threat, with all agreeing that immigration has a more negative than positive effect on the UK, and that we seem to care more about immigrants than about British citizens. They all say I worry about becoming a minority in my own country.
These views are often at odds with the values of environmental activists, and reveal a clear tension. On the one hand, climate change is beginning to drive patterns of migration and displacement around the world, so immigration and climate change are becoming inextricably linked (in a way some segments would view as a growing risk or threat). On the other hand, and reflecting a surge in awareness around the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate crisis is increasingly seen (by other segments) as a problem grounded in racism. The challenge for campaigners is to provide consistent messages about how inequality and migration are linked to the climate crisis in a way that helps mitigate rather than exacerbate a culture war.
There is greater consensus on issues of gender: all segments are proud of the advancements we have made in equality between men and women (23% ‘strongly agree’, 53% ‘somewhat agree’), although more Backbone Conservatives feel that we give an advantage to women over men than the other way round.
Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives are alone in their perception that economic growth has benefited them. Similarly, majorities in all segments except Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives believe that the system is rigged to serve the rich and influential.
While all segments are present to some extent across Britain, there are a few (small) geographical differences. Progressive Activists are more highly represented in London than average, Disengaged Battlers are less represented in the south, and Loyal Nationals and Disengaged Traditionalists are slightly more likely to be found in the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies of the midlands and the north. Backbone Conservatives and Established Liberals are more likely to live in the south and in rural areas.
Keen for our support in applying these insights to your work?
Sign up to our newsletter
Thank you for signing up to our newsletter
You should receive a welcome email shortly.
If you do not receive it, please check your spam folder, and mark as 'Not Spam' so our future newsletters go straight to your inbox.