Who are Disengaged Battlers?
(12% of the British public)
Britain Talks Climate reveals two ‘Disengaged’ segments that at first glance seem to fall on each side of the political spectrum: Disengaged Battlers on the left, and Disengaged Traditionalists on the right. But a closer look – using a wider range of measures – reveals a more complex picture, and a clear sense that an absence of political engagement underpins both of these segments in different ways.
A relatively young segment, Disengaged Battlers are typically urban and, although educated to a medium level, they tend to be financially insecure.
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 UK||Most important issues (Feb)||Most important issues (Sept)||Trusted messengers||Most read news sources|
|1||Compassionate||Healthcare and the NHS||Healthcare and the NHS||David Attenborough||BBC|
|2||Environmentally friendly||Britain leaving the EU||The economy||Climate scientists||None of the above|
|3||Honest||The environment and climate change||Britain leaving the EU||Environmental charities||ITV|
I feel like if you do the right thing, go to work and everything and pay your taxes, we don’t really get anything back for it. I don't know, the prescriptions go up every single year and you don’t necessarily get a pay rise with inflation to cover these extra costs.”
They see inequality as a big problem, and are the most likely to be working class, according to national socio-economic grades. Traditionally viewed as part of the core Labour base, this segment can no longer be relied on to vote Labour, or indeed to vote at all.
Disengaged Battlers have left-leaning views on the economy (supporting broadly redistributive policies) and meritocracy (doubting that people ‘get what they deserve’ from life). But this segment may hold more centrist/right-leaning views on some cultural issues, with a majority (54%) agreeing that people nowadays have become too sensitive about things to do with race. While they are more likely to see the positive effects of immigration (46%), a sizeable proportion disagrees (25%).
Disengaged Battlers do not feel represented or heard, with 87% believing that politicians don’t care about people like me (the highest of any segment), and 83% agreeing that the system is rigged to serve the rich and influential. Compared to Disengaged Traditionalists, this segment is twice as likely to think that there’s one law for the rich and one for the poor.
Feeling left out of society and disillusioned, this segment is the least likely to say that people in the UK are kind, and they have low trust in people generally. They are the most likely to feel lonely and to say they are facing life’s high points and low points alone, and are the least likely to feel part of a community.
I prefer my own space. I prefer being on my own.”
For me, I just want to feel safe in my community. I don’t need to chat with all my neighbours and be friends with them. As long as I feel safe, that’s enough for me.”
But, although they are pessimistic and disinclined to trust institutions, they are nevertheless resilient and cannot be described as fatalistic, believing that the ideal UK should be fair, honest and environmentally-friendly.
Only a minority of this segment are proud to be British, with some embarrassment or hesitation around the negative stereotypes and connotations this brings. The defining feature of this segment is arguably their low engagement with politics and political parties, with the highest rate of non-voting in local and general elections, and on Brexit.
They are fed up with political infighting and the feeling that they have to choose sides, and are frustrated about their powerlessness.
Personally, I don’t define myself as left or right, but I have political ideals that I’ll stick to. But that’s not something I’d bring up. I don’t see myself as either way and I don’t think I would ever describe myself as such.”
Everything is so partisan at the moment. People are either on one side or the other and you’ve got to pick a side. You can’t drift between the two. You either pick a side or you just stand on the edges and don’t get involved.”
Disengaged Battlers on climate change
Compared to Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists, Disengaged Battlers are less worried about climate change (and other environmental issues, including air pollution, plastics and deforestation). Most closely resembling Backbone Conservatives in their concern about environmental issues across the board, they are nonetheless always more engaged – often by a considerable margin – than Disengaged Traditionalists, with around 55% of this segment saying they are ‘extremely worried’ or ‘very worried’ about climate change, and an additional 26% who are ‘somewhat worried’.
However, Disengaged Battlers come closer to Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists in their understanding of the scale and urgency of the problem. They are the third most likely to believe that climate change is real and is caused by human action (72%, compared to 69% average) and that climate change requires urgent, radical action (59%, compared to 49% average).
We just had a record-breaking heatwave in the UK. That’s not normal. So, I think the longer that we ignore that, it’s just going to get hotter, it’s going to get weirder, there’s going to be flooding.”
Perceived political indifference to their needs and interests colours most other findings, placing them alongside Disengaged Traditionalists in their lack of ‘pride’ in protecting the environment and lower concern about our ‘throwaway culture’. They are also less likely to agree that community spirit can be built through working together to protect the environment and are the most likely to report feeling ‘no emotions’ about climate change. In short, they are unpersuaded by rhetoric suggesting they should ‘do their bit’, because this would imply a social contract with institutions and other segments in society that they feel hasn’t been honoured.
It follows that Disengaged Battlers report the second lowest engagement in personal actions to address climate change (after Disengaged Traditionalists), as well as being the segment most likely to agree (53%) that there’s no point trying to protect the environment because big companies and other countries will keep polluting. Only 8% would sign a climate change petition or vote based on climate considerations.
Trust – or rather a lack of it – is a defining characteristic of this segment. From a list of potentially trustworthy sources on climate, they are the most likely segment to select ‘none of these’ as a response. They have generally low levels of trust (regardless of source) when it comes to climate change, lower than Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists. But, of all sources, as a non-partisan, non-judgemental spokesperson, David Attenborough is the most trusted, followed by climate scientists and environmental charities. Clearly, there is still a great deal of work to be done to bring Disengaged Battlers into the climate conversation.
The changes forced into focus by Covid-19 offer a window of opportunity to better engage this segment, and there is an appetite for it, but sensitive and considerate messaging will be the key to success as the peer-to-peer norms and social signals among this group are likely to be pulling in the wrong direction.
I remember having a conversation with my mum a few weeks ago and I was trying to say to her about why I wasn’t doing something or why I was trying to recycle something. She was just like, ‘for god’s sake, it doesn’t matter’. And it’s like, no, it really does. It really does. I know that this is just one thing and that one thing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But if a million people are doing that one thing then we’ve got a big f**king problem.”
For Disengaged Battlers, climate action needs to be fair and equitable. The most likely to be unemployed or in unstable, low-paid work, they are the most likely to say that a benefit of cutting carbon emissions would be to create jobs and prosperity. They are likely to be receptive to credible messaging around the concept of a ‘just transition’, as long as it doesn’t place an unfair burden on those largely without the means or the agency to effect change themselves.
All of climate change is a Catch-22 situation. The people who have power to change, either big conglomerates or big companies, it’s not in their financial interests to do so. And the little people like you and me, we haven’t got the power to do anything other than our own little bit. So, it really is very, very frustrating.”
... the reality is, to buy things without plastic on is something that’s really reserved for middle class people. Because if you go to the supermarket, everything’s wrapped in plastic that you can’t recycle. And it’s lovely to have this idea that we’re going out with our cotton eco tote bags and picking up our fresh veg that’s laid out still with the mud on it, but that’s something that really is only applicable to people with the money to buy those kind of products ... I don’t see how it can ever change unless it’s changed on some higher level.”
I agree about the whole class thing because it does come down to money ... I don’t have a lot of money but I’d rather pay more and make sure that our planet isn’t destroyed.”
About putting a bigger tax on flying, people who can afford it, it’s not going to affect them. They’re just going to be spending more money but they don’t give a s**t.”
‘Yes’ and ‘no’ policies
In general, Disengaged Battlers are less supportive of climate policies than Civic Pragmatists and Progressive Activists. Perhaps due to their financial insecurity and opposition to burdening the least well-off, they are particularly opposed to taxes on meat and dairy products (19% support, 54% oppose).
However, they show strong support for penalising brands that use excessive or difficult to recycle plastic packaging (76%), and setting targets for supermarkets to reduce food waste (80%). They also have the second highest agreement (76%), after Loyal Nationals, with the view that management will always try to get the better of employees if it gets the chance.
Support taxing flights
Support food waste targets
Support fines for excess packaging
Support taxing meat and dairy
Disengaged Battlers on Covid-19
“I think all COVID-19 has done is maybe highlight everything that was broken already in our systems and now it’s just a rush to really address those.”
Although Disengaged Battlers – in common with all other segments – showed a major bump during the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown in feeling that people are more likely to ‘look after each other’, as opposed to acting in their own self-interest, this seems to have softened as restrictions have continued and economic instability has come to the fore, falling by 18% since May. They are similar to Progressive Activists in expressing the second lowest level of agreement with the idea that coronavirus has revealed the best of human nature and the second highest level of agreement that it has revealed the worst of human nature. The Disengaged Battlers have not necessarily noticed the ‘unexpected benefits’ of lockdown and are the segment most worried about not having a job to return to after lockdown ends.
When the coronavirus is all done, it’s just going to go back to normal and immediately we’re going to start damaging it all over again.”
Despite this, a slim majority (51%) agrees that climate change must be prioritised (rather than put on the ‘backburner’) in our recovery from Covid-19, even if it costs more in the short term – a striking finding given the economic insecurity and political disengagement among this segment.
There also appears to be a shift in understanding of anthropogenic climate change among Disengaged Battlers. Between February and May, Disengaged Battlers were more likely to agree that climate change is real and caused by human action (+12%), and less likely to attribute climate change to natural causes.
Half of this segment (the second lowest, at 51%) agree with the idea that public money should be used to support low-carbon industries and technologies in the recovery from the pandemic, which emphasises that transition messages need to be about relatable people, real jobs, and human stories, rather than policy-oriented statements about investments in an industry this segment may not trust or feel a part of. They are not yet convinced that a green recovery is the way to create jobs.
Engaging Disengaged Battlers
Build trust with this segment by really listening to them and showing how the benefits of climate action will genuinely benefit ‘people like them’. Show relatable people in diverse green jobs and avoid pushing a middle class environmentalist lifestyle, which is not aspirational for this segment.
Avoid ‘middle class’ narratives around lifestyle changes
Although Disengaged Battlers share a left-leaning economic worldview with Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists, they are a very different segment. Differentiating them from middle class environmentalism is critical: they don’t regularly do many of the things that campaigners often tell them not to do (e.g. flying). They rightly recognise that lifestyle changes are more possible (and more impactful) among high-earning, high-consuming segments like Established Liberals and Backbone Conservatives.
Show relatable people in diverse green jobs
Job security and worries about unemployment are central to Disengaged Battlers. They are an ally for progress on climate but they have yet to see proof that the transition will include them, and their support hangs somewhat in the balance. Focus on tangible, everyday concerns and actual job opportunities – not just in ‘industry’ but in other sectors, too (e.g. retail, hospitality). Messengers and imagery are critical components: show this segment that the benefits are for ‘people like them’ by making sure every aspect of your content is familiar, relatable and local.
Talk about fairness not justice
The need for a ‘fair’ transition is clear for this segment. In previous Climate Outreach testing, the imagery and language of ‘justice’ has not resonated well across the political spectrum (only Progressive Activists and Civic Pragmatists are likely to gravitate towards this kind of phrase). The framing of ‘fairness’ may work better for Disengaged Battlers: fairness is about doing right by everyone involved; justice, by contrast, may imply wrongdoing in the past that must be atoned for.
Be clear on corporate responsibility – but avoid simplistic ‘blame’ messages
Grounded in a belief that everyone should play by the rules – including the wealthy and powerful – messages that clearly point to corporate responsibility and accountability in climate actions will resonate well. But Disengaged Battlers don’t necessarily want to hear who they should ‘hate’ or be angry at. Research carried out in Alberta, Canada, which brought the voices of the oil and gas industry to the fore of conversations about energy transition, found that, among a comparable ‘working class’ group in Canada, simplistic ‘blame’ narratives were less engaging than focusing on practical pathways around employment and development.
Don’t overplay the ‘silver linings’ of lockdown
Invoking a sense of positivity around (temporary) environmental changes like lower air pollution or more time in green space is unlikely to resonate very well with Disengaged Battlers, who have reverted to a lower sense of social solidarity. Ongoing restrictions and increasing economic instability as the furlough scheme comes to an end are a source of real personal stress and anxiety for Disengaged Battlers.
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