Good Thursday afternoon, 

It’s time to take a look at the polls! Each week, Magnified delivers insights and analysis straight to your inbox, allowing you to stay up to date on what the public think about the most important issues of the day. Keep reading for the latest updates on our weekly trackers, as well as our national and international polls. Today, we also take an in-depth look at the public’s attitudes towards the regulation of social media and the challenges the Government faces with regards to its Online Safety Bill. 

This week, our research also covered: 

  • Britons’ outlook on the next 12 months
  • Views on coronavirus restrictions and personal freedoms
  • Government management of public finances 
  • Scottish independence 

Snapshot: Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(19 July):

Conservative 42% (+1)
Labour 33% (–)
Liberal Democrat 10% (-2)
Green 5% (-1)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 3% (–)
Other 2% (+1)

Changes +/- 12 July

Tied lowest % for Labour since May 2020.

All Net Approval Ratings
(19 July):

Rishi Sunak: +21% (-5)
Boris Johnson: -1% (-1)
Keir Starmer: -13% (-2)

Changes +/- 12 July

Our latest Voting Intentions poll gives the Conservatives a nine-point lead over Labour, with 42% (-1) of voters saying they would vote for the Conservative Party if an election were to be held tomorrow. Despite this lead, the Government’s net competency rating has dropped further to -11%, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating is also in negative territory again, at -1%. With daily coronavirus cases in the UK surpassing 50,000 for the first time since January last week, soaring infection rates are likely a contributing factor to this downward trend in approval and competency ratings for the Prime Minister and his Government. 

Where Labour is concerned, reports that Keir Starmer is preparing to proscribe several far-left factions in a bid to distance the party from extreme left views and thereby make Labour more electable again have not translated into gains in the polls for the time being. With Labour’s National Executive Committee expected to formally issue the proscription this week, whether or not this move will impact voting intentions remains to be seen in next week’s poll. 

Aperture: Other Data You Should Be Aware Of

Great Britain: 58% of Britons think the Government is in a financial position where it cannot afford to take on more debt. Yet, there is disagreement over respondents’ preferred way to balance finances: 42% favour spending cuts, while 37% prefer tax increases. Read more here

Great Britain: While a plurality of 33% of Britons oppose Scottish independence per se, a plurality of 33% would nevertheless support a Scottish referendum on independence being held in the next year. Read more here.

Great Britain: 49% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 54% of 25-to-34-year-olds think that coronavirus restrictions infringe on their personal freedoms and liberties as British citizens. At the same time, only 31% those 65 or above think the same. Read more about these generational differences here

EU: 51% of Spanish respondents think being part of the EU’s vaccine procurement programme has helped Spain’s vaccination efforts. Yet, significantly lower proportions of Italian (34%), French (26%), and German (11%) respondents think the same about the impact of the EU’s vaccine procurement programme on their respective countries. Read more here

Are you a journalist needing a stat for your latest piece? We can be your resource—our polling covers hundreds of issues in multiple countries each week. If you are working on an article on a topical issue, chances are we have already asked the public about it. Get in touch and we’ll share our polling data with you! 

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Online Safety Bill: How Can the Government Tackle Harmful Content Online While Also Ensuring Freedom of Expression?  

When the Government published its long-awaited Draft Online Safety Bill in May 2021, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said this new legislation would ‘usher in a new age of accountability for tech and bring fairness and accountability to the online world’ while still protecting freedom of speech and upholding democratic debate online. In light of recent events, such as England players facing racial abuse online after England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final, such legislation appears all the more topical, and we observe important levels of support for Government regulation of social media. 

In practice, however, the implication of such legislation for the Government is that it will be torn between two most likely irreconcilable camps: one side will see any attempt at regulating social media as not going far enough in protecting users, while the other will see any attempt as an unacceptable infringement on their right to free speech. A compromise between the two may be the only possible way out, but such a balancing act between safeguarding free speech and protecting online users against undue harms is likely to leave both camps dissatisfied. 

As outlined in the Government’s response to the Online Harms White Paper, social media firms will have a ‘duty of care’ towards their users, meaning they will need to take robust action to address not only illegal abuse posted on their sites, but also content that is deemed harmful while not reaching the threshold for criminality. On a general level, our polling finds strong support for such measures: 62% of the British public support social media companies censoring content that they deem sexist, homophobic, or racist, compared to only 18% who oppose. 17% neither support nor oppose. In addition, 55% of respondents support social media companies being regulated by the Government—an arrangement which 19% oppose and 22% neither support nor oppose. 

Yet, a plurality of 39% of respondents also agree social media companies should be able to set their own content removal guidelines, as opposed to the Government setting such guidelines. Conversely, 24% disagree that social media companies should be able to set their own content removal guidelines, and 29% neither agree nor disagree. This point is where things get tricky. With end users out of the question, who should be able to define what is harmful? The Government? Ofcom? Social media companies themselves? 

Under the Draft Online Safety Bill, Ofcom will set guidelines, but ultimately, translating these guidelines into policies, as well as implementing and policing these, will be the responsibility of social media companies. Given that 50% of Britons say they have ‘very little’ trust in social media companies and a further 32% say they only have ‘some’ trust, making this model work and fending off accusations of ‘outsourcing policing to Silicon Valley’ would require Ofcom’s guidelines to be highly specific. 

It is evident that defining where to draw the line between harmful and non-harmful content necessarily involves a degree of subjectivity and is therefore not an easy task. Yet, the Online Safety Bill’s success likely hinges on the Government’s and Ofcom’s ability to provide clear instructions to social media companies. It is failure to do so that could create a threat to freedom of expression, as vagueness would open the door to campaign groups of all orientations flagging content that goes against their views as harmful. In the absence of clear rules, it will be all the more difficult for content moderators to decide where given content falls on the ‘non-harmful-to-harmful’ spectrum.  

Moreover, while the definition of such guidelines is one issue, policing them is another. Our polling finds that 42% of Britons think both the individuals who wrote them and the social media companies who host them should face legal action over racist and abusive comments made on social media, while an almost equal proportion of 41% thinks only the individuals who wrote them should face legal action. 8% think only social media companies should face legal action, and 4% think nobody should face legal action. 

While the Government’s current proposal may allow Ofcom to issue fines of up to £18 million, or 10% of a providers’ annual global revenue, whichever is highest, to companies who are found to be in neglect of their duty of care, there is much less that can be done to take action against individual users. Indeed, one of the criticisms frequently levelled at the draft bill is that under its current version, a user’s account may be taken down for posting content deemed harmful, but nothing can stop that user from starting a new account under a new name. 

Another issue at stake, then, is online anonymity. Our most recent polling finds significant support among the British public for ending online anonymity: 65% of respondents would support banning anonymity for social media accounts—a measure which 12% would oppose and 16% would neither support nor oppose. Yet, banning anonymity is far from uncontroversial. While proponents of the measure argue that anonymity leads to more hate speech and misinformation online, for instance, its opponents point out that anonymity is key to ensuring whistle-blowers or marginalised groups get to speak their mind without fear of discrimination. 

What debates about banning online anonymity sometimes miss, however, is that such a measure would not necessarily mean that a user’s legal identity should be publicly available on their profiles for all other users to see—rather, it would require users to disclose their legal identity when first creating an account, enabling social media companies to readily identify users who post illegal or harmful content so that further action may then be taken against such users where necessary. For the time being, however, the introduction of identity disclosure requirements does not figure in the Government’s plans, even though a majority of the public would likely support such measures. 

Irrespective of anonymity regulations, the Government will face the challenge of having irreconcilable demands made by digital regulation campaigners on the one hand and staunch free speech advocates on the other placed upon it as the Online Safety Bill approaches the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. Given the naturally ambiguous nature of online discourse, being as clear as possible in its guidance to social media companies on what exactly is to be classified as harmful and what is not will be crucial to minimising the risk of the bill infringing on free expression while also achieving its aim of reducing the amount of harmful content online. In this context, avoiding excessive vagueness will be key to increasing the Government’s chances of success when it comes to making good on its manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

Perspective: The RWS Take on the News 

Guardian (12/07):UK business confidence jumps ahead of 19 July lockdown lifting

  • OUR TAKE: Optimism among UK private sector firms is at its highest level since June 2005, with hiring intentions in particular at record highs. Yet, our latest polling finds that this optimism is not necessarily shared by the British public: While a majority (57%) of respondents anticipate that their personal financial situation will stay the same over the next 12 months, 42% also think that unemployment on the UK will worsen over the same period of time. Read more about Britons’ outlook on the coming 12 months here

Telegraph (12/07):UK-Ireland World Cup bid 2030 could help strengthen the Union

  • OUR TAKE: The proposed UK-Ireland 2030 World Cup bid is seen as an opportunity to ‘showcase the union,’ with there being an acknowledgement that it could even weaken the case for Scottish independence—which, as our latest polling finds, 29% of Britons support and 33% oppose. Regarding the joint bid itself, we find that 54% of Britons would support the UK and Ireland hosting the 2030 FIFA World Cup together, while only 17% would oppose. At the same time, 51% of respondents say that the behaviour of England fans witnessed at the Euro 2020 final should have a negative impact on the UK’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup. Read more about what the British think about the joint UK-Ireland World Cup bid here.

Euronews (13/07):French rush to book COVID vaccines before restaurants require them to eat out

  • OUR TAKE: On 12 July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that vaccine passports would soon be required in order to go to restaurants, cinemas, theatres, and shopping centres, which has led to a record number of 1.3 million booking their coronavirus vaccinations within less then 24 hours of the announcement. Last week, we found that 65% of Britons think that the introduction of vaccine passports in the UK would make more people choose to receive a coronavirus vaccine than otherwise—and the latest news from across the Channel suggest that this assumption holds true in France. You can read more about what Britons think about the introduction of vaccine passports here.

7 Days in the media

Each week we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

Richard Branson blow! Most don’t want to go near Virgin man’s space flight
Daily Express | 18 July 2021

Biden’s Surge Could Flip the Senate — and Boost His Presidency
City A.M. | 25 June 2021

Brexit 5 years on: ‘We would have you back,’ says Europe, in new poll
Euronews | 23 June 2021

European public back iRichard Branson blow! Most don’t want to go near Virgin man’s space flight
Daily Express | 18 July 2021

Reckless Boris Johnson’s ‘freedumb day’ will ‘screw the NHS’ claim top doctors
Mirror | 17 July 2021

Poll: public oppose Matt Hancock’s comeback
The Spectator | 15 July 2021

Quarter of the country has quarantined since March with 5 million contacted by NHS app or Test and Trace
iNews | 12 July 2021

Most Read Case Studies This Week

Latest GB Voting Intention (28 June 2021)
28 June 2021 (5 min read)

Two-Thirds of Britons Support UK-Australia Trade Deal, With Over Half Thinking Deal Would Have Been Impossible Without Brexit
22 June 2021 (8 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (21 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (13 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (7 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 This Week

On the whole, compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, would Britons say their lives have improved or worsened? (see full tweet)

At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? (28 June): (see full tweet)

Keir Starmer Approval Rating (28 June): (see full tweet)

How has the coronavirus pandemic positively disrupted the lives of Britons and their families? (see full tweet)

How would the French, German, Italian, and Spanish publics vote in a referendum to leave the EU? (see full tweet)

Have a question or want to know more about our research? Get in touch! Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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