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Backbone Conservatives

Who are Backbone Conservatives?

(22% of British public)

Firmly conservative in their social and cultural views, strongly value farming and rural lifestyles, and supporters of the historic achievements and reputation of Britain in the world, and the most authoritarian of the segments, Backbone Conservatives, as their name would suggest, are core Conservative voters. They mirror the Labour-voting Progressive Activists on the left of the political spectrum in terms of their ideological focus and drive. 

Older, relatively well off, and relatively well educated, Backbone Conservatives are the most likely to say they are proud to be British.

The table below highlights what an ideal UK looks like for this segment, as well as the issues that are most important to them, the messengers they trust, and their preferred news sources.

Ideal UKMost important issues (Feb)Most important issues (Sept)Trusted messengersMost read news sources
1Hard-workingHealthcare and the NHSHealthcare and the NHSDavid AttenboroughBBC
2HonestBritain leaving the EUBritain leaving the EUClimate scientistsITV
3Environmentally friendlyThe economyThe economyFarmersDaily Mail

I’m incredibly proud to be British, English, whatever. You could say I was being racist by saying English. But I think we are leaders in the way of having good education or trying to have good education. Of having fairness in society, equal rights … We are the leaders of trying to have a better world, a better place for our children. A better place for us. To live more environmentally friendly. So we’re doing all the right things, and I think that’s something to be really proud of.”


Pride in being British across segments

Pride in being British across segments

Backbone Conservatives are the most likely to say that these days we seem to give an advantage to women over men (35%), are the most likely to agree that there is no point in going over the rights and wrongs of our history (81%) and that inequality is not a serious problem in the UK (46%).

Views on gender equality across segments

Views on gender equality across segments

Backbone Conservative attitudes towards inequality and the British Empire

Backbone Conservative attitudes towards inequality and the British Empire

Although they recognise the divisions in society, they are the most likely to think we’ve been through divided times like this before (33%, compared to 27% average) or that we’ve been through more divided times before (10%, compared to 6% average). Linked to their  secure financial and social position, they are the second most likely – after the similarly optimistic Established Liberals – to feel part of a community. However, they feel less safe than Established Liberals, with the majority agreeing that the world is becoming a more dangerous place (90%, compared to 60% of Established Liberals). 

Gardeners having a cup of tea at the Golden Hill Community Garden in Bristol

Confident, comfortable and proud of the country’s history, cultural heritage and the monarchy, Backbone Conservatives have relatively high trust in people (despite believing certain segments, such as immigrants, have a negative influence on society), and they are the most likely to say people in the UK are generally kind (79%, compared to 71% average) and people in my local area are generally kind (83%, compared to 75% average). 

90% of Backbone Conservatives give to charity (the second highest after Civic Pragmatists). They are most likely to say that Britain’s response to Covid-19 has revealed the best of human nature, sharing this optimistic take with Established Liberals, with more than two-thirds of Backbone Conservatives believing we look after each other.

In terms of their self-identity, this segment see themselves as respectful and hardworking, and believe people are responsible for their own choices and status in life.

Life divides between drivers and passengers. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You can either make it happen and do it or you can sit there and be carried along by everybody else.”

...a good stable job and then you’re able to get on the property ladder and you have savings, or I can take my family on holiday every now and then ... so, comfortable living. Then we can also give back a little bit to society in terms of doing some charity work or some voluntary work.”

With a pride and confidence in who they are and what the country has achieved throughout its history, they are optimistic about what the future holds, with 55% agreeing that the UK is headed in a positive direction (this is the only segment with majority support on this measure). 

Their ideal UK is hard working, honest and environmentally friendly, suggesting the potential to engage Backbone Conservatives constructively on climate change if the right approaches are taken 

Backbone Conservatives on climate change

In keeping with every other segment, Backbone Conservatives recognise that human activity causes climate change, and agree that cutting carbon emissions is an opportunity to create jobs in the UK. They are not ‘climate sceptics’, and show some enthusiasm for and openness to the broad goal of living more lightly on the land, and in a more pro-environmental way. They are the most likely to agree that preserving the beauty of the countryside is a positive benefit of climate action.

I think environmental issues and climate issues I think are really key … I just think there's so much to worry about and so much to think about, it’s difficult to pinpoint something in particular. But just in general, I think we all need to be working more towards living in a more environmentally friendly way. And we certainly do by every little thing that we can. Recycling things, not buying things that are not needed, careful of what packaging we buy."

Ramblers in the English countryside near Gargrave, North Yorkshire

However, a significant minority (34%) believe that climate change is part of the earth’s natural cycle and that human action is not to blame. This segment are sceptical of what they consider to be ‘environmentalist’ approaches, alongside a perception that environmental campaigners are ‘worthy’ or judgmental in tone.

The environmental enthusiasts, the fanatics, will be rubbing their hands looking at what’s going on at the moment saying, ‘fantastic. Isn’t the world a cleaner, better place?’ Yes, that’s fine, if you’ve got a job and you can feed your family and you’re not waiting for a cancer operation maybe because you can’t get into the hospital. That’s all well and good. So, people are going to be refocused after this on getting back to at least where we were. And that’s not going to happen overnight. This is going to take five years.”

Backbone Conservatives are much more likely to hold foreign governments responsible for causing climate change, with 50% choosing this option in their top three, compared to 33% overall.

Us recycling a bit more and not using plastic straws, whilst it will do a little bit, it’s not nearly going to do enough to change the world in general. That comes from your major oil companies and governments. And as you say, with China, the amount that they put out. So, me deciding to have a steak for dinner doesn’t really make all the difference.”

It’s relevant to each and every one of us, but I still feel unless there’s bigger action on a global scale. If you take China and India, the population of the two combined are almost half of the world’s population. If nothing is going to happen over there for whatever reason, I feel a little bit helpless in the small things that we do and change our lives, obviously will help, but we will never achieve the aims and goals that we need to.”

Torrential rain caused flash flooding in North Yorkshire, damaging farm buildings and sweeping animals away

Net zero

For Backbone Conservatives, it is most important that, in efforts to reach net zero, the UK should work together with other countries to reduce emissions, to prevent basic costs from rising and to maintain economic growth. Retraining workers in the coal and gas industries is also important to them, as is ensuring that they themselves don’t have to change how they live – with an emphasis on the “have to”. Backbone Conservatives show an openness to change their lifestyle for environmental reasons, but it’s important that they retain individual freedom to make the choice.

While the majority believe environmental and economic outcomes are achievable and not mutually exclusive, Backbone Conservatives want to be sure that the country is economically healthy. They are unsure about whether net zero will be good for various aspects of society, including for the economy and the creation of new jobs. They express concern about cost, both monetary and otherwise, and are uncertain about how changes will be funded or implemented.

So, if it's done in the right way, there should be more jobs but that's key to how the Government goes about it because, I think, initially, it's going to have to fund it in some shape or form and it's just how that money is managed and it needs to be put the best of use so the government gets value for that money.”

It's making life more expensive. I mean, the cost of electric cars is just stupendous. … Then, it's what do you do with these, is it lithium, batteries? There's no way of disposing of them, is there? They're digging holes and burying them, so again, that's another problem for another generation to have to solve.”

Perceived impact of net zero policies on the economy by segment. Data: Jan 2022.

In focus groups, Backbone Conservatives talked about ensuring that the UK is more independent in its energy supply. While some seemed open to the idea of oil exploration in the North Sea to ensure self-sufficiency, fracking was seen as a bad idea, as it would have too many negative side effects for people in the UK. Focusing on a well-planned transition to renewables could appeal to this segment’s desire for the UK to be energy independent.

Risk: While Backbone Conservatives generally find economic and environmental outcomes to be mutually compatible, there is a risk that they feel they have to choose between the economy and the environment.

Opportunity: Backbone Conservatives may respond well to sound economic and nation-growing arguments for net zero in maintaining the economy, seeking energy independence through renewables and retraining workers

Narrative recommendation: Policies that protect natural landscapes framed as a way of feeling proud of the British countryside will speak to Backbone Conservatives, who may also respond well to net zero policies that simultaneously protect the environment and the economy.

For Backbone Conservatives, fairness means treating everyone the same and everyone playing by the same rules. Backbone Conservatives are the most likely of all segments to want the same rules to apply to everyone, considering it unfair for there to be “one rule for them, one rule for us” between the government and ordinary people. This means rewarding hard work and closing loopholes.

Yes, I think it means equality, being treated in the same way. Treating others in the same where you'd expect to be, sort of, treated.”

We hear in the news like for example Amazon, you know. They're a big company that probably don't pay what they should, they don't pay tax as they should. And I think especially now in this economy, I think the government should really collect the right taxes from such big firms. And also from those either with businesses and rich people, like, you are taxed if you have an income but if you have a business, there are so many loopholes that special accountants can explore. And, you know, [they] can evade taxation.”

Backbone Conservatives agree that, ultimately, everybody will be affected by climate change, while recognising that some groups of people, such as people on lower incomes or people living in flood-prone areas, will be more affected than others. Their examples largely draw on the UK context, and the international dimension of who might be affected more by climate change is only vaguely mentioned. In the international context, Backbone Conservatives largely believe that large polluting countries should do more to protect the environment, but that does not mean that smaller countries should not be doing their bit.

The more flooding we get, whether that's in the UK or lower lining, so lower lying countries throughout the world. They'll be forced to have, sort of, mass migration simply because their countries are flooded, they've got to go somewhere so it is a concern that this extreme weather, it's going to lead to more things happening.”

I think it affects everybody, I mean, [it] probably depends obviously [on] where you live and everything. And which areas are affected worse, but it does affect everybody.”

It's going to affect the lower income people because they live in older buildings which, obviously, it's being flooded.”

When discussing fairness, Backbone Conservatives tend not to consider whether special rules based on different needs are necessary, although they believe some situations require case-by-case judgement. For example, while the majority were open to paying some kind of flight tax (36% against), they raised concerns about ensuring that those on lower incomes were not left unable to travel while the rich continue to fly.

So, I don't really fly much, however, I think it probably depends on what the amount is. … The worry is flying will be left to the people who can afford it and those people that can't, they may have something going on in their personal life and they need to get away for that second time in the year, it might not be a regular occurrence, it might just be a one off, they've got to go to an emergency or something. So, I think I'm, kind of, for it but I think ... it has to be [... judged case by case.”

While Backbone Conservatives care about not being forced to change their way of life, many do express a willingness to voluntarily change their personal actions as long as freedom of choice is preserved. For example, many are willing to reduce their meat consumption for both environmental and health reasons (50% are open to eating less meat or already don’t eat meat), but they are against the government telling people to eat less meat and against the removal of meat options in public cafeterias.

In the last couple of years, I've made a conscious decision, for health reasons, to eat less meat. I say ‘health’, it wasn't specifically health, but health and environmental [reasons] to eat less meat. But I do eat fish, so maybe I'm not, kind of, cancelling out, but I'm trying to eat more fish for health reasons.”

I don't think I eat meat more than once a day, anyway, so even cutting it out once or twice a week wouldn't be a big deal, but I don't think [we should] cut it out in schools. ... It should be a freedom that you get to choose. My children's school always has a vegetarian option so some days they will opt for that, but I don't think it should be taken away totally.”

Stated willingness to reduce meat consumption among Established Liberals, Loyal Nationals, Disengaged Traditionalists and Backbone Conservatives. Data: Jan 2022.

Despite being the most likely to own their own homes and despite comprising on average of medium-income households, the majority of Backbone Conservatives say they are unlikely or very unlikely to install a heat pump in their home in the next five years (59%). The main reasons they give are the cost of a heat pump (53%); that it would require too many other changes in their home (34%); and uncertainty and distrust around heat pumps as a new and unknown technology (26%).

NEW: Climate policy support and involvement

Biggest Issues (after cost of living and NHS)

  • Immigration and refugees
  • Crime
  • Taxes

Most worried that climate change might…

  • Harm nature and wildlife
  • Cause my bills and other costs to rise
  • Increase the risks of floods

Reasons to not participate in consultations

1)  We should leave finding solutions to climate change to the experts

2)  Me taking part won’t make a difference

3) I don’t trust MPs so  don’t want to engage with them

Reasons to participate in consultations

1) It’s important that local people have a say in things that concern their local area

2) I see it as part of doing my bit to combat climate change

3) It’s nice to hear others’ opinions and discuss with them 

Three ways to engage Backbone Conservatives in climate policy change

  • Make policies feel tangibly like they will improve daily life: talk about how policies will work practically, how the economy will be supported, and highlight the benefits these policies will bring to people’s daily life – rather than feeling like restrictions or a hardship. 
  • Engage face-to-face: Backbone Conservatives would prefer to be engaged face-to-face in their local communities. Work with local messengers like farmers or small business people to talk about climate impacts and positive action already being taken. 
  • Talk about protecting and valuing farming lifestyles while protecting nature: Show that British farmers can be supported alongside protecting the natural environment, and that these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

See the Seven segments 2024 overview here.

Backbone Conservatives want to see everyone “doing their bit”, but with leaders doing the heavy lifting

Backbone Conservatives are open to the idea of more community involvement and organisation in local climate programmes, however, they equally like the idea of a strong central government leading the way.

Backbone Conservatives are more relaxed about the pace of change. For them, tackling climate change is inevitable and it will be sorted out eventually.

...So I think it's [climate change] important and there needs to be money put into it, but it's not top of my priority”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

This segment is supportive of policies and initiatives they see as positive steps forward and that make positive changes to their day to day life

As such, Backbone Conservatives will push back on anything that seems punitive or restrictive to themselves.

Yeah, because with the solar panels, my mom has them on her house and she sees quite a difference to be fair, obviously when it is sunny, which is what would not get a lot of at the minute, but I think if there was a solar farm that would save quite a lot of money to be fair and then everyone might see a difference or a decrease in their energy bills and things. That would be something that was quite good.”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

Backbone Conservatives say the government should prioritise issues such as ensuring availability of food, protecting our natural environment, expanding use of renewable energy and reducing air pollution. These are policies they perceive as making positive changes to their daily lives.

Perceived most important and least important issues the UK government could prioritise relating to the environment and climate change for Backbone Conservatives


Backbone Conservatives favour electric vehicles as a solution. In focus groups, making electric vehicles more affordable and accessible seemed to be a policy Backbone Conservatives would support. Coupled with this, Backbone Conservatives see reducing carbon emissions from road travel as an important climate change related issue for the government to prioritise.

Yeah, more charging points. Try and bring the price down of electric cars, make it more affordable. Think about the tax on them. Yeah, I think they'd be really good. They're lovely to drive and I think they'd just be so good for the environment. There's so many cars.”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

When looking at what is least important for the government to prioritise, Backbone Conservatives select issues such as reducing reliance and exploitation on oil and gas, reducing emissions from air travel, and encouraging other countries to take action. This is in keeping with this segment’s concerns around the economy, and restrictions placed on individuals.

Backbone Conservatives want policies to protect farmers and their livelihoods

Backbone Conservatives are the only segment to prioritise ‘supporting farmers to use nature-friendly practices, and (along with Civic Pragmatists) place most importance on ‘ensuring availability of food’.

In focus groups with Backbone Conservatives, there was support for farmers making decisions on their own practices as well as concern among the segment over the difficulty of growing crops as a result of climate change.

Yeah, because if the seasons are going to change, it's going to change when they can grow the crops, isn't it? It depends what these people are farming, but you're not going to be able to grow whatever it is that you're growing so that's going to affect them or they're going to have a shorter period of time [for growing crops]...”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

I think whatever works for each individual farmer. If they want to go down the route of environmental, if they don't then that should really be up to them…”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

I think the farmers are the experts aren't there?..”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

Backbone Conservatives would also be willing to pay more for local produce from farmers, linking to their concern for available food.

Yeah, we need farms, don't we? So they're very important, aren't they? So what I mean they've got to make a profit. Keep going.”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

I'd rather pay as least as I can as a consumer, but I do appreciate that I would prefer as much food be grown in this country as possible if that means paying a little bit more.... Yeah, I'd go with that. Yeah. Food security.”

Backbone Conservative, Cumbria

Engaging Backbone Conservatives

Build on well-established research on engaging audiences with firmly held conservative values, and animate them over battleground issues to do with rural life: for example, food standards that protect farmers’ livelihoods and climate change-related weather effects. Remove the signifiers of left-wing environmentalism without undermining the substance of the message. Find and amplify genuine success stories around British leadership on the environment.

Key takeaways

Use their political power

This segment is essential for shifting the Conservative Party’s centre of gravity towards genuinely Paris-compatible climate ambition and policies. When they flex their muscles, they can be very powerful indeed. Persuade them to be advocates – on their own terms, and in their own language – within their key networks. This means supporting Backbone Conservatives to be vocal within constituency meetings or at social events about their passion for a form of environmentalism that grows out of conservative values rather than left-wing ones. 

Use the robust evidence on engaging centre-right audiences on climate change

In keeping with previous research on engaging conservative audiences on climate change, this segment values moderation over radical change. Avoiding wastefulness – food, energy or even money (in high-carbon industries that no longer represent an efficient investment) – is a safe and motivating starting point for Backbone Conservatives. Being pragmatic rather than idealistic, seeking balance and continuity with the status quo (continuing with progress already made) and invoking the power of intergenerational duty are all established ways of connecting effectively with Backbone Conservatives.   

Double-down on issues they already care about

Messages around protecting and upholding rural ways of life, farming as a vocation, and British agriculture as an industry and symbol of national pride will land best with this segment. Leading on the negative environmental impacts of meat and dairy farming will be less effective than encouraging a low-waste, high-quality approach to food and diet across the board – pointing to the virtues and benefits of local, trusted suppliers rather than demonising farmers and the farming industry. 

Avoid red flags (like a ‘meat tax’) to avoid culture war dynamics

Some topics are simply off-limits for Backbone Conservatives: being clear what not to prioritise with this segment (e.g. around state-imposed taxes on dietary choices) is crucial for navigating around the risks of a culture war. Over time, their perspective on this kind of policy may change, but this means campaigners taking Backbone Conservatives (and other less-engaged segments) on a journey that they are genuinely supportive of. 

Change the messenger

Backbone Conservatives are not sceptical about climate change or other risks to the natural environment, but they are very sceptical of typical ‘environmentalists’ and what they perceive as a ‘worthy’, paternalistic and largely hypocritical worldview. Scientists, farmers and representatives of rural life, and people who have been impacted by climate change in the UK and have a credible, authentic story to tell, are likely to be more trusted communicators for this constituency. In many ways, it is the messenger rather than the message that Backbone Conservatives are likely to object to.

Take pride in what Britain has done well on the environment

Backbone Conservatives are likely to look to the government for evidence of how serious climate change is. Point to practical, tangible achievements – improvements in energy efficiency and high standards in farming/welfare – rather than grand claims about global leadership. They want to hear about the things we are doing well at, in so far as they maintain a way of life that is in keeping with their values.

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Disengaged Traditionalists


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