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 thinks 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 how the politicisation of young people on social media favours the development of a parallel political culture in Britain that risks reinforcing social divisions.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ self-reflection on their social media use
  • Public reception of climate change warnings
  • The British public’s trust in the Bank of England

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(18 Oct):

Conservative 40% (–)
Labour 37% (+1)
Liberal Democrat 9% (–)
Green 5% (-1)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 3% (-1)
Other 2% (+1)

Changes +/- 11 Oct

All Net Approval Ratings
(18 Oct):

Rishi Sunak: +19% (+2)
Boris Johnson: -2% (+4)
Keir Starmer: -10% (+1)

Changes +/- 11 Oct

Our latest Voting Intention poll gives the Conservatives a three-point lead over Labour, with 40% (no change) of voters saying they would vote for the Conservative Party if an election were to be held tomorrow. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating stands at -2% (+4) in this week’s poll, while the Government’s net competency rating remains at -12% (no change).

In April, the Conservative Party was 10 points ahead of Labour, but as our latest figures show, this lead has narrowed substantially over recent weeks. Recent economic woes such as ongoing supply chain problems and a squeeze in living costs in the face of rising inflation and expected tax rises are likely a significant factor behind this development.

In fact, we find that Britons have adjusted their economic expectations for the coming three months significantly where their personal finances are concerned—to such an extent that the proportion of Britons expecting their financial situation to worsen in the next three months has nearly doubled since mid-August. Whereas 17% expected their financial situation to worsen over the next three months on 16 August, for instance, as many as 30% now expect a deterioration.

Such negative expectations may even extend beyond the coming quarter, as nearly four-fifths (78%) of Britons also expect taxes to increase over the longer horizon of the next three years—so much so that 42% of Britons now disagree that the current Conservative Party stands for lower taxes. At the same time, only one-fifth (21%) of the public is in favour of tax rises, signalling a mismatch between what voters would like the Conservative Party to do and what they would now expect it to do on the topic of taxation.

In the face of these economic woes, that the Conservative Party is still leading in the polls—if now more narrowly than previously—appears to be less an affirmation of voters’ belief in the measures that the Conservative Party intends to put forward to address these economic challenges than an admission of the absence of an alternative option.

To its credit, the Conservative Party at least purports to have a long-term fix to some aspects of the present situation. It has, for instance, identified the overreliance of key UK businesses on cheap foreign labour as a cause of current problems and argued in favour of a transition to a high-wage economy. Yet, few understand how the Conservative Party intends to get there. For all the Conservatives’ talk of “levelling up” the UK, for instance, nearly a third (31%) are not at all aware of what it means, and a further quarter (25%) are only somewhat aware, bringing the proportion of Britons who have a faint idea at best of what the Conservative Party’s strategy entails to over half of the country’s population.

From many voters’ perspectives, however, that is more than the Labour Party currently offers. Keir Starmer’s comments that he would issue 100,000 visas to foreign lorry drivers to address the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK may be a short-term fix. But it is hardly a long-term solution, and it seems an attempt to harken back to a world before Brexit. Representative of Labour’s lack of clear presence in the economic debate, a significant 69% of Britons say they have never even heard of Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Amidst this rather surface level economic debate, the Conservative Party’s better reputation on the economy may help more than the public’s belief in any concrete measures it proposes to counteract the present economic challenges. As pointed out in last week’s edition of Magnified, the Conservative Party is the party Britons consistently trust most to manage the economy (currently at 36% to 29% who trust Labour most)—reflecting a deeper, longstanding belief in the Conservatives’ competence in this domain.

Even so, any lead that relies on the Opposition’s continued weakness is built on shaky foundations. With the economic situation likely to fuel further discontent over the coming weeks, the challenge is clear: Whichever party is better able to show that it has a credible plan to address both short-term and long-term economic challenges can expect its voting share to go up in the polls accordingly.

Chart of the Week

How disruptive was the recent nearly six-hour outage of Facebook and Instagram earlier this month? Our latest research, which measures which platforms Britons use and how frequently they log onto social media, suggests a significant disruption—especially among younger people.

Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in Great Britain, with a stunning 71% of those polled reporting they use Facebook. Notably, it is also the most widely used platform across all age groups. Whereas usership rates decline as respondents’ age increases for nearly all other platforms, Facebook is used not only by 64% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 84% of 25-to-34-year-olds, but also by 72% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 61% of respondents aged 65 and above.

Of these users, 23% long onto Facebook or Facebook Messenger daily, 32% multiple times a day, 7% hourly, and 19% multiple times an hour. Among 18-to-24-year-old users, 94% use Facebook or Facebook Messenger daily or more frequently, with the proportion logging on multiple times an hour alone standing at 32%. We observe similarly frequent browsing of Instagram, which is used by 47% of Britons polled. 20% of all users say they log onto or browse Instagram daily, 33% multiple times a day, 14% hourly, and 17% multiple times an hour.

Meanwhile, TikTok and Snapchat also register frequent usage, with 55% and 54% of users, respectively, browsing these platforms multiple times a day, hourly, or multiple times an hour. Yet, while these two platforms are popular with 18-to-24-year-olds, of whom 65% report using Snapchat and 59% report using TikTok, they are much less widely used overall: Among all Britons polled, usership rates stand at 22% for Snapchat and 21% for TikTok.

Despite differences in the frequency of usage between platforms, it is evident that Britons spend a considerable amount of time browsing social media each day. Many, however, come to a sobering conclusion regarding their own social media consumption: Nearly half (49%) of Britons—including 51% of 18-to-24-year-olds—think the time they spend on social media is ‘mostly useless’ to their lives as opposed to being ‘mostly useful,’ though a significant 34% do say it is ‘mostly useful’ and 17% don’t know. Even so, 56% say they find using social media enjoyable, suggesting that social media serves a role as providing mindless entertainment.

More critically, parts of the younger generation seem to have become reliant on social media: 51% of 18-to-24-year-olds agree they would not be able to live their lives as they do now without social media. Perhaps the ‘forced detox’ brought about by the recent nearly six-hour outage of Facebook and related apps Instagram and WhatsApp provided this demographic a sobering moment to reflect on their social media habits.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: Environmentalism in Britain is on the rise. 53% of Britons agree with a statement suggesting that protecting the environment should be given priority, even if it were to cause lower rates of economic growth and/or the loss of jobs. However, a plurality of Britons are optimistic that such a trade-off may not be necessary: 35% think that environmental policies are generally beneficial to the economy and to businesses in the UK, compared to 25% who think they are generally detrimental and 25% who think they are neither beneficial nor detrimental.

Great Britain: 55% of Britons support the introduction of vaccine passports in England to verify that individuals attending businesses such as pubs and restaurants have been vaccinated. At the same time, however, 37% also think it is unlikely that pubs and restaurants would strictly enforce such requirements. Read more here.

United States: Optimism regarding the general direction in which the US is heading varies greatly by age. While 41% of Americans aged 18-to-24 say they are optimistic, 45% of those aged 65 and above are instead pessimistic, suggesting generational differences in perspectives on the United States’ future.

United States: Remote work appears to be here to stay. 59% of Americans currently working from home intend to continue doing so, either in full or in part, once the pandemic is over, and even among those not currently working from home, 57% say they would like to find a type of work that allows them to work from home in the future—a proportion that even rises to 65% among 25-to-34-year-olds and to 67% among 45-to-54-year-olds.

Hire Us: If you are a business, campaign, or research organisation looking to expand your understanding of public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has the tools to help. Get in touch to find out more.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Parallel Politics: How Social Media’s Way of Politicising Young People Is Contributing to Social Divisions

When former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen spoke out against the social media platform’s practices earlier this month, one comment that made headlines around the world was her assertion that Facebook “is tearing our societies apart.”

What sounds like a damning statement is in fact a sentiment shared by nearly half of the British public. 48% of Britons think social media has made the world a worse place (compared to 17% who think it has made the world a better place), and 49% say social media platforms are more likely to tear societies apart, compared to 29% who think such platforms are more likely to bring societies closer together.

Britons’ perceptions of social media clearly do not live up to the ideal of providing spaces that foster connections and understanding across communities. In fact, in the eyes of the public, contact between people who have different political views on social media is more likely to lead to social divisions (54%) than to encourage mutual understanding (20%).

Such assessments are not least due to the tendency of social media platforms to function as echo chambers. By design, algorithms intended to show people content that is likely to appeal to them can limit users’ exposure to diverse perspectives and can instead lead to the formation of closed-off communities. Within such communities, members’ beliefs get constantly reinforced and rarely challenged due to the repeated interaction with peers or sources having similar tendencies and attitudes.

Haugen’s comments vividly reflect public concerns over the content and nature of social media discussions and the effect these have on democratic societies. Speaking to CBS News, she memorably argued that “[w]hen we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarising content, it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other.”

One concrete and problematic way in which social media may be leading to social divisions is by reinforcing generational divides when it comes to how Britons envisage and participate in political engagement and democratic life.

For young people, social media platforms play a politicising role, notably by providing political information and a channel for engagement: 71% of 18-to-24-year-olds agree that social media makes it easier to keep up to date with current political developments, compared to 42% of 45-to-54-year-olds and 35% of 55-to-64-year-olds who agree, for instance. At 21%, 18-to-24-year-olds are also more than twice as likely as 55-to-64-year-old social media users (8%) to mostly have discussions on political topics online, rather than offline. Further, whereas only 16% of Britons overall engage with political content ‘all the time’ or ‘most of the time’ when using social media, this figure rises to 29% for 18-to-24-year-olds. The politicising impact social media has on Britain’s youngest adults is thus clear.

To be sure, an interest in politics among the youngest voters could be something to be welcomed. After all, citizen engagement and participation in political discussions are vital to any thriving democracy. Yet, due to the tone and nature of political discussions that take place on social media, what seems at first positive is not necessarily conducive to bringing societies closer together and encouraging mutual understanding through the productive discussion of different viewpoints in practice. To this point, 39% of 18-to-24-year-olds—a plurality of this age group—say that the political discussions they have seen on social media have made them more passionate about politics, compared to 23% of Britons overall. But if ‘passionate’ is shorthand for less reasoned and instead more emotional online debate, whether this figure should be seen in a positive light is highly questionable.

Indeed, more than half (56%) of Britons—including 55% of 18-to-24-year-olds themselves—describe the tone and nature of political discussions they have seen on social media as hostile (compared to only 17% who describe them as friendly)—a figure that goes a long way in explaining why a majority of Britons think that contact between people who have different political views on social media is more likely to lead to social divisions than to encourage mutual understanding. Absent a basic willingness to be proven wrong or to compromise, the democratic value of such online discussions may decline quickly.

In addition, social media may instil young people with an activist conception of politics that older generations do not share (and even disapprove of). Once more, what may be positive from a perspective of democratic engagement risks further reinforcing social divisions.

52% of 18-to-24-year-olds—compared to 36% of Britons overall—report previously having engaged in online activism (e.g., signing or sharing an e-petition or changing their profile picture to support a cause). Such online activism may sometimes be belittled as ‘slacktivism,’ suggesting it involves little effort or commitment and rarely leads to actual change. Yet, our research finds that such online activism does not displace and instead even correlates with offline activism: 81% of people who have engaged in online activism have also engaged in offline activism (such as attending a protest or writing to their MP)—a proportion significantly higher than the 23% of Britons overall who have engaged in offline activism.

In this way, the consequences of divisions on social media are carried into the offline world. Here, they manifest in different attitudes to other forms of political action. Views on recent protests, such as the ones staged by Insulate Britain on the M25 motorway, for instance, provide an illustration of this point. Whereas nearly half (49%) of Britons overall disapprove of Insulate Britain’s protests, a plurality (43%) of 18-to-24-year-olds instead approve.

Further, young Britons also differ from older ones in their more favourable views of censorship or what is sometimes termed ‘cancel culture.’ Whereas minorities of 55-to-64-year-olds (34%) and those aged 65 and above (32%) would support the Government censoring books with content that it deems sexist, homophobic, or racist, for instance, a majority (53%) of 18-to-24-year-olds would support the Government doing so. These differences in views suggest a fundamental intergenerational disagreement over how political aims are best achieved—with both sides’ views potentially difficult to reconcile.

Social media are thus contributing to the development of a parallel political culture. While their role in raising interest in political topics among young people may be positive at its root, the echo chamber nature and the hostile tone of political discussions on social media platforms, paired with a frequent unwillingness of users to recognise the potential merits of perspectives different to their own, place a limit on their democratic value. Not least, these problematic aspects translate into tangible differences in approaches to politics between younger and older Britons, breeding intergenerational conflict. In short, the ideal of social media as virtual fora for diverse and open-minded discussion that fosters understanding across viewpoints, circumstances, and generations is one to which platforms have so far failed to live up.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Climate change: ‘Adapt or die’ warning from Environment Agency
BBC | 13 October 2021

Our take: Ahead of next month’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, the Environment Agency delivered a stark warning in a newly published report, noting that the UK must prepare itself for more floods and droughts, rising sea levels, and greater pressure on water supplies due to climate change. Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the agency, summarised the report’s message in one phrase: “It is adapt or die.” While such an apocalyptic tone is intended to shock Governments, companies, and individuals into action, whether it will necessarily achieve its desired effect remains open to question. Indeed, our latest research shows that while 59% of Britons agree that climate change is a direct threat to the United Kingdom, a plurality of 37% also agrees with a statement suggesting that scientists who study climate change are likely to exaggerate its threat in order to receive more funding for their research and gain more influence. For those trying to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of climate change, these findings suggest that there is a fine line between rhetoric that is mobilising on the one hand and rhetoric that is instead dismissed as overly dramatic and may thus lead to inaction on the other.

Interest rates dilemma puts spotlight on Bank of England’s credibility
The Guardian | 19 October 2021

Our take: Economists are criticising Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey for what they describe as mixed messages regarding the Bank’s base rate. While Bailey argued in late September that inflationary pressures would prove temporary, the Governor last week changed his stance by recognising that such pressures look to be persistent, putting the Bank in a position where it “will have to act” to control inflation. These comments have led financial markets to bet on a bank rate increase (likely by 15 basis points to 0.25%) over the coming weeks, though some are concerned the City could be left befuddled if the Bank does not act accordingly next month. While such changes in the Governor’s messaging may cause credibility concerns among some economists and seasoned investors, it is unlikely to severely damage the Bank of England’s reputation in the eyes of most Britons, given high levels of public trust. Indeed, 32% say they personally have a lot of trust in the Bank of England, in addition to 52% who have a moderate amount of trust. 13% say they have a little bit of trust, and only 3% of Britons polled say they have no trust at all.

R&WS in the Media

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

It’s no wonder young people don’t understand levelling up
The Spectator | 16 October 2021

Tory voters will abandon party over tax rises, new poll warn
The Telegraph | 15 October 2021

Trump Leads Pence, DeSantis by Over 30 Points Among Republicans for Potential 2024 Run
Newsweek | 14 October 2021

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!

Most Read on Our Website This Week

Four-Fifths of Britons Expect Tax Rises Over the Next Three Years, With Only One-Fifth in Favour
19 October 2021 (5 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (18 October 2021)
18 October 2021 (5 min read)

Majority of Britons Support Vaccine Passports for Pubs and Restaurants, Though 37% Think Strict Enforcement Unlikely
18 October 2021 (4 min read)

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. Nicola Sturgeon Approval Rating (18 Oct): (see full tweet)
  2. At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? (18 Oct): (see full tweet)
  3. Do Britons approve or disapprove of the Government’s performance on immigration? (18 Oct): (see full tweet)
  4. Which party do Britons trust most in specific policy areas? (15 Oct): (see full tweet)
  5. How have Britons’ financial situations changed in the last three months? (11 Oct): (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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