The survey that was drawn on to identify the seven segments was conducted before the Covid-19 outbreak, but the detailed qualitative work (discussion groups and individual interviews) was conducted in the wake of the pandemic. Two waves of additional Covid-19 polling were integrated into these analyses to ensure a complete picture of public opinion across the segments.
May 2021 update: Climate Outreach, as a core partner of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST), conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,500 UK residents in December 2020. The survey used the Britain Talks Climate model to look at what we can learn from people’s shared experiences over the last year, and how public engagement on climate change can build on these. The findings have been distilled in a guide which offers eight recommendations.
In a fast-moving landscape, keeping tabs on how the seven segments are feeling during the Covid-19 pandemic is critical. In a striking comparison between pre-pandemic public opinion (February) and views in May after the outbreak of Covid-19, there was a major shift in the balance of people agreeing that we look after each other, when thinking about life in the UK in 2020, with every segment showing positive movement.
Although this positive shift had softened by the time the question was asked again in September – representing, perhaps, fatigue and frustration with the continuing constraints of Covid-19 policies – levels remain higher than they were before the pandemic for all segments, and significantly so for the least politically engaged, Disengaged Battlers and Disengaged Traditionalists. In a comparison with other European countries, this feeling of social solidarity appears to be more enduring in the UK.
Another clear and consistent finding across the segments is that people don’t want to go ‘back to normal’. In May, a clear majority in all segments agreed that they hoped for things to change, rather than going back to how they were before the Covid-19 crisis. In September, there was a slight decline but a large majority still hopes for change. Some segments show a marked drop in agreement, however – Disengaged Traditionalists (-21%), Backbone Conservatives (-18%) and Loyal Nationals (-16%) – suggesting perhaps a longing for the (relative) comforts of a time before lengthy lockdown restrictions and economic instability.
Across the seven segments, lockdown policies drove concerns about the future, with a focus on health, being able to see friends and family, and government decision-making. Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists were particularly worried about the government not using this moment to change the way we think about and plan for the future. There is a clear difference between Established Liberals and the two ‘Disengaged’ segments in how secure they feel about future employment, creating a risk that the segments could shift further apart as the financial impacts of Covid-19 play out.
Across the segments, there is a recognition of the (unintended) positive aspects of lockdown policies – cleaner air and louder birdsong – leading to an understanding that we need to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and protect our green spaces.
Some behaviours have predictably decreased, such as taking fewer trips abroad for work or pleasure (54%), driving less (51%), and buying fewer things (40%). Other notable changes include a universal increase in the appreciation of nature, shopping from local businesses, buying local and seasonal food, and reducing waste.
But it is harder to judge whether fear is dominating hope in the life of individuals. In May, the most optimistic segments (Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives) were more hopeful about a post-Covid-19 future, whereas the most pessimistic segments (Progressive Activists and Disengaged Battlers) were the most fearful. In September, this picture shifted slightly, with decline in hope among the more optimistic segments, but also a decline in fear, alongside much greater uncertainty (“don’t know” responses), particularly among the two ‘Disengaged’ segments. Interestingly, there has been a shift towards greater hope only among Disengaged Battlers, with Established Liberals showing the largest decline in hope, related to a substantial increase in uncertainty.
Tellingly, only Progressive Activists recognise any direct link between environmental damage and the spread of infectious disease, so campaigns that explicitly make this link are unlikely to resonate with most. In fact, the more conservative-leaning segments were slightly less convinced of the link in September than they were in May.
The Covid-19 crisis has increased concern about the economy and jobs, causing the environment and climate change to drop slightly in the priority list for Civic Pragmatists, Disengaged Battlers, Established Liberals and Loyal Nationals.
Despite this, a majority in every segment, except the Disengaged Traditionalists, who mostly want things to remain the same, would like to see more climate action from the political party they voted for in 2019. Across the board, there is also extremely low support for less action from political parties, indicating that policymaking needs to catch up with public desire.
Brexit remains the second most important issue overall, and it appears that the country’s response to Covid-19 has not convinced the majority of segments that political division is lessening (most believe it is getting worse).
Despite climate falling slightly in overall priorities, there are some positive shifts, including segments’ responses to the notion of a ‘green recovery’. In May, Progressive Activists were the only segment to indicate strong support for the idea of using public money to support low-carbon industries as part of the Covid-19 recovery. In September, we saw increased support for this among Civic Pragmatists (+25%), Backbone Conservatives (+14%) and Loyal Nationals (+12%).
A broad-based belief in the potential for climate policies to create jobs already exists, and the changes noted above are a reason for cautious optimism about the direction of travel. However, there is work to be done to persuade groups across the whole of society of the value of a green recovery for them. Support remains low among the two ‘Disengaged’ segments, who are the least likely to believe that they will benefit from low-carbon employment opportunities.
All segments, except the Backbone Conservatives, disagree that the actions of the UK government during the pandemic have shown they can be trusted to look after the people of this country. In addition, a majority of Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists say that the government response showed that they don’t care about people like me.
Majorities across most segments indicated that they wish they had more say in the direction the country takes. The exceptions are Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives, who are the most politically empowered already, and Disengaged Traditionalists, who tend to have higher levels of authoritarianism and belief that the country is going in the right direction.
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