New research gets into the heart of what people really believe
Drop what you’re doing and read this: it’s one of the important pieces of opinion research this year.
Entitled Britain’s Choice, and published by More in Common, it doesn’t analyse Britain by political affiliation, but according to deeper values. So instead of Left versus Right or Remain versus Leave, we are grouped into seven tribes including “Progressive Activists”, “Established liberals” and “Backbone Conservatives”.
By getting to the heart of what people really believe, this methodology picks up some much bigger differences of opinion than those revealed by more conventional categories like party affiliation.
So, does this research show Britain engaged in a bitter them-and-us culture war? Not quite — and, in many ways, not at all.
For a start, the seven groups don’t always disagree along the same lines. The combination of groups on each side of the argument varies from issue to issue. Then there are the issues on which there’s a remarkable degree of unity. For instance, the majority of people in all seven groups said they were “proud of the advancements we have made in equality between men and women”. The research also shows a seven-group consensus on issues like localism (too much is decided in London), climate change (a concern for us all) and racism (a serious problem).
However, on one issue a culture war does appear to be raging. While all seven groups agreed that hate speech was a problem, only six thought the same about political correctness. The outlier on this issue is the Progressive Activist group — only 28% of whom thought PC was a problem, far behind the next wokest group (the Established Liberals) on 68%.
Now consider this finding alongside another — which is that compared to the other six groups, the Progressive Activists were roughly five times more likely to share their political opinions on social media. In other words, an unrepresentative group with unrepresentative opinions on a controversial set of issues is having a disproportionate impact on the national conversation.
This risks becoming an even bigger distortion if the mainstream media becomes unduly influenced — especially in an attempt to keep a younger audience. In particular, the BBC could do itself serious harm if it panders to a group that is so out of kilter with the rest of the country. It’s not as if our national broadcaster is in an unassailable position these days. Technology is changing the way we consume media and the legitimacy of the license fee is now in question.
The Corporation should also pay attention to something else in the Britain’s Choice report. When the public was asked to choose three things that made them proud about the UK today, only 7% picked the BBC. That compares to 14% for the monarchy, 20% for the armed forces, 29% for the countryside and, right at the top, the NHS on 57%.
If the BBC wants to stay relevant then it should focus on the things that unite us as a nation — and not on becoming the broadcasting arm of Twitter.