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Executive Summary

Key Highlights

  • The Brexit process is decaying public trust in the political system, and there is growing animosity between those who feel most strongly about Brexit.
  • Being a “leaver” or a “remainer” has become part of identity politics for many, one to which people feel an emotional bond and a frame through which we process information and make political choices. But there remains a large section of the population who are ambivalent about leaving the EU.
  • There are significant divisions in our core identities and how we see ourselves and interpret the world around us, with a growing ‘culture war’ between those who celebrate diversity and those who perceive growing diversity as a challenge to their own position in the world.
  • Our relationship with traditional political parties is breaking, and the two party system in Britain is fracturing. Our polling and modelling suggests that no party could win a majority as it stands, and we may be looking at months, if not years, of political deadlock 
  • The public continue to see Muslims as distinctly different – and overwhelmingly more negatively – than any other group. Anti-Muslim prejudice is concentrated among those who see immigration and multiculturalism most negatively, but is also present amongst people who generally have otherwise liberal and tolerant attitudes.
  • The British public now consider the far right the greatest threat to public order, above Islamist extremism. Although far right narratives have become increasingly mainstream, violence on the far right is a red line for most people, limiting their appeal.
  • The importance placed on tackling climate change by the public has rapidly jumped, following high profile campaigns, and the vast majority of people say that they are willing to make sacrifices in their own lifestyles to stop global warming. 

Brexit has changed Britain

a tattered EU flagged on top of the UK flag
© https://todaytesting.com

Brexit exposed many pre-existing social divisions, but it also added a new dimension to our identities that determined which information we chose to believe and how we saw others around us. 

  • Almost three years on from the referendum, people continue to associate more strongly with Remain or Leave than any other political or value-based position. When asked whether people consider themselves more of a Remain voter, or more of a Leave voter, the majority of people (60%) now see themselves at the extreme of either side.
  • Britain is now overwhelmingly a country of pessimists, the majority of people now more pessimistic than optimistic about the future. Remain voters are most likely to be pessimistic – although this group were more likely to have been optimistic prior to the referendum. Leave voters became more optimistic following the vote to leave the EU, an optimism that has not subsided much over 3 years. 
  • We have also seen people’s values change as a result of which side of the referendum they most identify with. Those with more liberal views have reinforced and hardened their support for immigration and multiculturalism, overwhelmingly furious with the tone of the referendum campaign and the result.

New Tribes 

Since 2011, our Fear and HOPE reports have studied public attitudes to a range of social issues, dividing the country into six ‘tribes’ based on the overlay between economic security and cultural anxieties. Our 2019 Fear and HOPE report introduces our seven new tribes to better understand how Brexit has changed Britain, to reflect the strength of our Brexit identities and a changing relationship with traditional politics. 

  • Political trust and our expectations of Brexit have created new fault lines in the British population. While there are large sections of the population who share the same opinions and attitudes, their relationship with ‘the establishment’ and trust in institutions means that they act on these sentiments in very different ways.
  • The national debate around cultural and identity issues remains polarised, but the share of those who view immigration and multiculturalism as overwhelmingly positive is larger than those who oppose it. The two liberal, Remain-supporting tribes make up 28.7% of the population, although the share of the population who belong to immigration positive and multiculturalist groups makes up 45%.The share of the population which fits within the two hostile tribes makes up 32.3% of the population.
  • The majority of people feel disconnected from the political system, but while many who feel this way are more ambivalent around a range of issues, for those who hold hostile attitudes towards immigration and multiculturalism, this disconnection becomes manifest as anger, antagonism and even violence. 

Identity

St George’s Cross – flag of England waving.

There are significant divisions in our core identities and how we see ourselves and interpret the world around us, with a growing ‘culture war’ between those who feel celebrate diversity and those who perceive growing diversity as a challenge to their own position in the world.

  • More than twice as many people identify as British (59%) than English (26%), though those who feel most anxious about immigration are more likely to feel English, while those who celebrate diversity most are more likely to feel European than English.
  • The majority of people feel that British values are in decline.
  • Those who most oppose immigration and multiculturalism frequently adopt a defensive position about their own identity, increasingly culturally anxious and fragile about challenges to their privilege, and more likely to say that feminism marginalises men.
  • A huge 52% of people agree that you cannot be proud of your national identity these days without being called racist – only 27% disagree. A staggering 71% of 2017 Conservative voters and 75% of Leave voters agree with this statement.
  • Staggeringly, a third of people believe that feminism is to blame for making some men feel marginalised and demonised in society (33%), while slightly more disagree. Among men, 42% agreed with the statement and 28% disagreed. A quarter of women agreed, while 47% disagreed.

Politics and anti-politics

a picture of a man holding a placard which says "Traitors sack Parliament" with a statue of Winston Churchill right behind him
Credit: Reuters

As the deadlock in Parliament over Brexit goeson, and infighting swamping the major parties, political mistrust has swelled.

  • The percentage of people who feel that none of the main political parties speak for them has risen dramatically – from 61% in December 2018 to 68% in July 2018. By May 2019 it had risen to a huge 73%, that’s nearly three out of every four people in the country. Barely a quarter – 27% – are confident that at least one of the main political parties reflects what they think. Less than 10% of people who have heard of that person say they identify closely with any leading political figure.
  • Those with the strongest views on Brexit and identity issues are most likely to think that the political system in broken. The liberal tribes feel angry about Brexit, while those who want to leave the EU feel let down by delays.
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) of our May 2019 poll said that political correctness is used by the liberal elite to limit what we can say. A huge 72% of Leave voters and 71% of 2017 Conservative voters believe that this apparent political correctness is limiting what we can say. 

Brexit

a picture of the EU flag with a hole in the middle. Big Ben behind the EU flag

Where we sit on Brexit has become an important part of how many identify, and the strength of our Brexit identities is shaping how we feel about a range of social issues and questions of values. But there remain a large proportion of the population who feel more ambivalent about the issue.

  • The strength of our Brexit identities acts as a filter on the information we choose to believe. The liberal tribes are most concerned about warnings of economic decline following Britain’s departure from the EU, while the two hostile tribes think these predictions are exaggerated in order to keep Britain in the EU and maintain the status quo.
  • There is still no consensus over what people want to see from Brexit. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of our poll say that the Brexit outcome they would most support is reversing Brexit entirely and staying in the EU, then 28% say that would be leaving the EU with no deal, only 13% would accept the Government’s deal, and just 8% would choose to leave the EU but stay inside the single market and customs union.
  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of Leave voters say that if it looked like Brexit was about to be reversed, they would get behind a campaign to stop it happening. Among those who would support such a campaign among both of these tribes, 72% would not reconsider their view if, as part of the campaign, there were protests that became violent or threatened violence.
  • 45% of people agree that Brexit has enabled and legitimised prejudice towards migrants and ethnic minorities – just 26% disagree. Many are feeling the effects of Brexit resentment borne out through anti-Muslim prejudice. Sixty-one percent (61%) of Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents agree that Brexit has enabled and legitimised prejudice.

Environment

Young protesters in London call for action to help prevent climate change
Young protesters in London call for action to help prevent climate change. Credit: Shutterstock

The importance placed on tackling climate change by the public has rapidly jumped, following high profile campaigns, and the vas majority of people say that they are willing to make sacrifices in their own lifestyles to stop global warming.

  • The Environment has become the third most issue in the minds of voters after Brexit and the health service. Ranked as one of their top issues by 27% of voters, this put concern for the environment above the economy, crime and education. This was a sharp jump from even last summer, when the Environment ranked as the seventh most important issue at just 17%.
  • 79% of people agree with the statement that “We must all be prepared to make some sacrifices to our lifestyles in order to stop global warming”. Only 6% disagreed.
  • 59% of respondents supported the statement that “Protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth”, with just 13% opposing it.

Immigration

Support for immigration continues to grow incrementally, with the share of those who think that immigration has been more good than bad for the country up to 63% from 60% in July 2018, and 40% in February 2011.

  • Despite shifts in the proportion of people who see immigration positively, more people continue to believe that new immigrants are given priority ahead over established residents when it comes to benefits or using public services than dispute this: 45% agree, while 28% disagree.
  • Arguments about the economic contribution of migrants have not made much traction with Leave voters. Only 17% think that a sharp reduction in immigration after the UK leaves the EU will have an adverse effect on the British economy, something 72% of Remain voters are worried by.

Integration and multiculturalism

4 young girls wearing peacock headdresses at Notting Hill Carnival
Credit: https://www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com

People feel more and more positive about multiculturalism, but it remains a divisive issue, with many cynical about the state of integration in the UK linked to anxieties and prejudice about Islam and Muslims in Britain.

  • The proportion of people who feel that having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is part of British culture has increased from 49% in 2011 up to 63% in May 2019.
  • People continue to see more benefits of multiculturalism for the economy (54%) than for British culture (45%).
  • Multiculturalism remains a polarising issue. Conservative voters are sceptical about multiculturalism: 52% think that British culture has been undermined by multiculturalism, compared to less than a quarter of Labour voters (24%)/

Anti-Muslim hatred

A police officer outside the Slade Road mosque in Birmingham.
A police officer outside the Slade Road mosque in Birmingham. Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

People continue to see Muslims distinctly differently – and overwhelmingly more negatively – than any other religious group.

  • Eighteen percent (18%) of people have an extremely negative view of Muslims, although attitudes to Muslims in Britain are slowly improving, alongside a broader liberal shift. We find a general decrease in the share of people who see Islam as a serious threat to Western civilisation: 44% agree, down from 52% in our 2017 Fear and HOPE poll.
  • However, the share of people who believe the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy – that Muslim immigration is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims the majority of a country’s population – and also that ‘there are no go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non- Muslims cannot enter’, has slightly increased from 32% in July 2018 to 35% in May 2019.
  • When those who perceive Islam as a threat are asked why they feel this way, the most popular choices seem to highlight an association between Islam and a ban on free speech, and a threat to British laws and values.
  • Anti-Muslim prejudice is concentrated among those who see immigration an multiculturalism most negatively, but is also present amongst people who generally have otherwise liberal and tolerant attitudes.

The appeal of the far-right – and its limits

a picture of far right thug Tommy Robinson looking angry

The British public now consider the far right the greatest threat to public order, above Islamist extremism. Although far right narratives have become increasingly mainstream, violence on the far is a red line for most people, limiting their appeal.

  • Public concern about extremism has reduced overall. The percentage of people who do not feel any extremist groups or organisations pose a threat has quadrupled, from 4% in February 2019 to 16% in May 2019.
  • But the appeal of the far right in Britain is limited. When asked about potential support for a more extreme political party, we found only a small minority would offer their support. Seven percent (7%) of our December 2018 YouGov poll say they would be likely to vote for a party founded by people with a history of football hooliganism, on the political far right, committed to opposing Islamism and immigration and supporting Brexit.

Read the full report

Fear and HOPE 2019 is the latest in our on-going analysis of British society and the attitudes of its citizens.

DISCLAIMER: This report was funded and published by the HOPE not hate Charitable Trust.
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