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Civic Pragmatists

Who are Civic Pragmatists?

(13% of the British public)

Solidly left but not activists, this progressive, practical and moderate segment are anxious about the future and are one of the segments most concerned that the world is becoming a more dangerous place

Civic Pragmatists are community-oriented, being the most likely to donate to charity (94%), and share socially left beliefs with Progressive Activists. They are equally convinced that inequality and racism are serious problems in the country, and are almost as proud of embracing diversity and of advancements in gender equality. During a focus group, one participant described their segment as “liberal, creative, kind, caring, calm and realistic”. This is also a majority ‘Remainer’ segment.

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
1Environmentally friendlyHealthcare and the NHSHealthcare and the NHSDavid AttenboroughBBC
2CompassionateBritain leaving the EUThe economyClimate scientistsITV
3TolerantThe environment and climate changeBritain leaving the EUEnvironmental charitiesFacebook

There is a very visible divide between how many possessions people have and what access they have to possessions and what their outlook on life is and what their beliefs are and I think it boils down to money.”

Civic Pragmatists also have a relatively high level of education but, compared to Progressive Activists, they tend to be older, with a higher proportion of women (12% above the mean). A majority are proud to be British, but there is a rejection of simplistic national identity (i.e the stereotypes associated with ‘Brits abroad’ or anti-European activism around Brexit).

I completely don’t identify with any political party.”

Yeah, there’s something about claiming you’re English, it’s all St George’s flag and topless to the waist, drinking lager somewhere, that there’s negative connotations to it and so British is something else. I mean, I feel a bit more European than anything else to be honest.”

In a clear distinction from Progressive Activists, Civic Pragmatists are evenly split on whether British identity is disappearing or being strengthened through diversity, and a majority agree perhaps reflecting the older demographic that there is pressure to speak a certain way about subjects like immigration and immigrants (75%).

Agreement and disagreement about British identity and diversity

Agreement and disagreement about British identity and diversity

Civic Pragmatists are not exclusively Labour voters, with a significant minority leaning towards the Conservatives. ​Generally, they are less defined by their political views than Progressive Activists.

They have higher levels of trust in institutions overall, so are less instinctively distrusting of government or industry-led climate initiatives (relative to Progressive Activists), but they are just as likely to say that politicians don’t care about people like me (84%). It is a challenge to persuade them that their efforts make a difference (i.e. a sense of efficacy) and that they can help bring about political change.

Civic Pragmatists on climate change

Civic Pragmatists are highly concerned, and are the second most engaged on climate change. However, unlike Progressive Activists, climate change is not central to their politics, and they don’t see it as  exacerbating other social challenges. As the shift in their ‘top three priorities’ between February and September 2020 in the table above shows, they are equally, if not more, concerned about other issues, such as the NHS, the economy, Brexit, racism and race relations, and preserving our cultural heritage. So, while their concern about climate change is prominent, it is arguably underpinned by a fairly passive sense of conviction and relatively low levels of commitment. 

Despite being a relatively economically secure segment, they are the most likely to report feeling helpless about climate change. In common with most other segments, they experience other negative, passive emotions towards climate change, such as anxiety and sadness (only Progressive Activists experience more active, energised emotions, such as anger).

The world is in quite dire straits when it comes to the planet and it’s kind of like the planet’s getting back at us.”

You can’t deny the effects of what’s happening. You can’t deny it. It’s happening right in front of you.”

A mother and son visit the Golden Hill Community Garden in Bristol

That’s all I ever hear from my daughter. ‘Mum, the climate’s going to pot. What’s the point? Nobody’s going to listen to us’.”

Alongside Progressive Activists, Civic Pragmatists show the highest level of trust in environmental charities as sources of information on climate change, as well as high levels of trust in climate scientists, David Attenborough, farmers, and people affected by floods or fires. While generally positive towards groups such as Extinction Rebellion, believing that protests boost awareness of climate change, Civic Pragmatists are concerned that these groups are perceived negatively in wider society.

I think if they just get people’s backs up, then it doesn’t show them in such a good light but for what they’re doing, I think they’re a really good group.”

...they definitely need to be aware that they could be irritating people sometimes, maybe stopping them doing their daily job. Yeah, they need to just be careful about not upsetting the general public, rather than taking them along with them.”

I think the general media are putting them in this kind of box of a type of people and that I think could be damaging for them, if they’re considered to be vegans ... and activists with dreadlocks and that kind of thing.”

For Civic Pragmatists, climate action is the responsibility of everyone – individuals have their role to play, but so do governments in regulating industries.

I think that change starts at home, so I start to do my little bit, rather than thinking it’s the big factories that will make a massive impact. I do little things. So maybe it makes a change and it makes a difference because if everybody did a tiny little bit, it makes a massive impact, rather than just thinking, oh I can’t do anything, it’s just the bigger guys that are responsible.”

... industry, commercial companies want to appeal to the man and the woman on the street. If environmental consciousness is important to them, then it will eventually be important to the industries, won’t it?”

Without government support and them pushing it to the forefront, then us, as individuals, can only do so much.”

Climate change is part of what Civic Pragmatists talk about with their friends and family, with a focus on being responsible for their own actions and those of their families, rather than having a strong urge to advocate:

Two young women having a conversation on a sunny day in Liverpool

I talk about it with my husband when we do a food shop, we’ll talk about getting the loose apples, instead of a bag of apples, covered in plastic or the biodegradable caddy bags instead of a plastic one. I wouldn’t say I talk about it massively with anyone else out of that context, I don’t think.”

It does annoy me every single time when I open something, a salad bag or whatever and I can’t recycle that plastic, but there’s no other choices for me.”

However, Civic Pragmatists experience mixed feelings about their own actions, with a degree of tension between feeling good and validated about their behaviours, and feeling guilty and judged by others.

I still drive to go shopping, to get my shopping. I do try to walk but it takes me about an hour … I don’t think I could give up my car. So, yeah, that makes me feel a little bit guilty.”

Personal actions to stop climate change: Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists

Personal actions to stop climate change: Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists

As a relatively well-off segment, they have the means and the motivation to take a range of personal actions. On reducing their electricity use and switching to a renewable energy supplier, they are second only to Progressive Activists, and they show fairly high levels of engagement with recycling, reducing waste and buying local. However, they are far less likely to reduce their meat consumption and, when it comes to political activity, the two segments are a long way apart. Just 15% vote based on a political party’s climate change policy, and less than 20% say they have signed a petition or contacted their MP on climate change.

Yes’ and ‘no’ policies

On potential government policies, Civic Pragmatists are much more against airport expansion (46%) than for it (23%), and are the closest to Progressive Activists on a number of more radical policy proposals like banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 (53%) and taxing people who fly the most (60%).

Civic Pragmatists on Covid-19

Alongside many other segments, Civic Pragmatists recognise that lockdown policies have inadvertently ‘improved’ the environment in some ways:

At the current state of things, seeing air pollution drop, the number of cars on the road drop, the birds singing louder than they did before, has just kind of shown the effect that humans have on the environment, just on very shallow scale really and so the environment is something that I am concerned about, I guess.”

Children play by a pond with their mothers at the Golden Hill Community Garden in Bristol

I feel it’s been great to actually hear the birds singing in the morning rather than hearing the cars and the pollution. It has given me an appreciation of the environment which I did not have before. And actually, to finally get out of my car and use my two legs more than I have ever done. It has changed my outlook and my focus that we should have more green spaces ... that green space has become so much more important to me and my family than it has ever before.”

Civic Pragmatists recognise that the outbreak of Covid-19 is related to damage to the natural environment, but only by a small margin (39% in May, 52% in September). Similarly, although they agree that climate change should be prioritised (rather than put on the ‘backburner’) in our response to the pandemic, they are not persuaded of this to the same extent as Progressive Activists (reflecting their milder level of commitment to the climate cause overall).

Prioritisation of climate change vs. Covid-19: Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists between May and September

Prioritisation of climate change vs. Covid-19: Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists between May and September

The two segments are united in the belief that – once the pandemic is over – they do not want things to go ‘back to normal’. Relating this view back to their feelings of anxiety about the increasingly dangerous state of the world, this segment sees an opportunity to ‘reset’ the polarisation that has defined the past five years. There is strong agreement among Civic Pragmatists (87%) that “Coronavirus reveals that we have taken far too many things for granted. Let’s not make the same mistake with climate change and spend money on prevention measures that plan for the future now”.

Percentage of people who are hopeful vs. fearful: Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists in May and September

Engaging the Civic Pragmatists

Build on their existing civic engagement and high levels of trust in institutions by making it easier for them to participate in change. Convince them of the need for their voice of ‘radical pragmatism’ in climate politics. Build their confidence and conviction, and shift their concern to a deeper commitment on climate change. 

Key takeaways

Convince them their voice is needed in climate politics

Civic Pragmatists are likely to be able to ‘see past’ their opinion of the government of the day and to support genuinely progressive climate policies when they see them – but they are not as active in climate politics as they could be. In many ways they are a core audience for environmental NGOs, given their high levels of trust in these charities, as well as establishment institutions, so convince them that their voice of ‘radical pragmatism’ is a necessary part of climate change politics. Doing so will require a different kind of emphasis compared to the Progressive Activists: one that foregrounds a constructive, as opposed to accusatory, approach to government. 

Hold their attention

This segment wants to go with, and to be seen to go with, the grain of progress, but environmentalism isn’t a core part of their identity. They’re busy and also interested in/worried about other issues, so climate moves up and down their priority list. Bring these issues together in a way that emphasises the positive social and economic effects of tackling climate change – reducing pressure on the NHS, ensuring a more resilient economy, and creating a post-Brexit society in which marginalised communities can play a fuller part – so they don’t always have to choose where to turn their attention, and so they begin to place climate action at the heart of a progressive government agenda. 

Build their confidence as advocates for their community

Civic Pragmatists regularly give to charity, are highly involved in their local community and engage in a range of ‘personal’ low-carbon behaviours. Build their confidence in being an important part of the effort by showing them that they are already activists in their own lives. Be sympathetic about the difficulties of trying to follow a sustainable lifestyle and explain that commitment to a cause doesn’t mean passing some kind of green ‘purity’ test. Make it easier for them to engage through activities in their local area, where they can use their soft power to open the space up to others

Use ‘restoring balance’ and a ‘sense of unity’ as key narratives

Previous research suggests that ‘restoring balance’ (because we are out of synch with nature) is a good way of engaging across the political spectrum on climate change. It is likely to strike a particular chord with this segment, alongside stories of unity and ‘pulling together’, given their eagerness to move past the polarisation that has characterised political discussion over the past five years and to reset after the disruption of Covid-19.

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Established Liberals

 

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