A decade ago, HOPE not hate’s first Fear & HOPE report revealed deep resentments to immigration, as well as scepticism towards multiculturalism that cut across society.
It concluded there was no progressive majority in society.
Today, we are looking at a very different picture. Attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism are far more positive than they were 10 years ago.
At the same time, anti-Muslim prejudice has remained widespread, while anti-Roma, gypsy and traveller discrimination are deeply engrained. And we see the emergence of a reactionary right threat that seeks to undermine the fight against the inequalities that plague our society.
In 2011, just under half the population felt immigration had been good for the country (40%); today a majority agree it has (56%). The proportion of people who say that having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is part of British culture has grown from a minority in 2011 (49%) to 60% in 2021. And while in 2011 just 29% of people said that the different ethnic groups that made up this country got along well, a decade later this stands at 41%.
We are more likely to feel disappointed with our own lives (32%) than we were in 2011 (25%) and less in control of our own successes (35%, compared to 25% in 2011). While we are less likely to describe Britain today as “pessimistic”, the terms “declining” and “soft touch” have remained the most commonly used words or phrases to describe Britain for a whole decade.
Rather than being centered on an exclusionary nationalism, ‘Englishness’ or ‘British values’, the politics of identity is increasingly being shaped by a reaction to progressive values. This cuts across multiple issues, from modern masculinity to structural racism. This new politics of identity is structured around four elements: attitudes around identity, political and institutional trust, attitudes towards different cultures and religions, and openness to conspiracy theory.
Attitudes are less structured by ideology than they used to be, and certain values – or framings on key issues – have become more dominant. Where the dial has moved one way on some issues, it has moved in the other direction on others. Anti-Muslim prejudice and anti-asylum narratives are deeply engrained, while the ‘culture wars’ have reframed questions of racial equality, gender and sexuality, to fuel a reactionary identity politics that kicks back against progressive norms.
Rather than a unified bloc of ‘far-right’ voters, the new politics of identity opens up opportunities for those peddling hate to bring together a diverse collective of voters who hold reactionary views on certain issues. Our research highlights the importance of understanding how to engage with these new audiences.
Many young people voice a desire for a different, more extreme form of politics. They are more likely to think that political violence can be acceptable for something you strongly believe in than other age groups. Just as many 18-24s would prefer having a strong and decisive leader who does not have to bother with parliament or elections (41%) as a political system based on liberal democracy with regular elections (42%).
It is no surprise that we have seen an increase in the spread of conspiracy theories: these tend to rise in volatile and uncertain times, as people look for answers in complex situations. The majority of people reject conspiracy theories being “true”, but a significant minority remain open to believing myths about everything from climate change denial to ‘great replacement’ and ‘new world order’ conspiracies, as well as those explicitly rooted in prejudice towards Jews and Muslims.
59% of our poll said they are worried about poverty in Britain. Economic inequality continues to shape attitudes and creates openings for division. Identity issues are dialled up or down depending on how the economy is doing, while a sense of power and privilege slipping away can fuel resentment.
For most, politics is a ‘one-way-street’. Overall, 65% of our poll agreed that voting is the best way to have your voice heard by those in power, with only 13% disagreeing. Yet just 26% said that they felt confident that local councillors acted in their best interests, while a majority (54%) felt that none of the main political parties spoke for them. Over half (57%) agreed with the statement “the political system is broken”.
While our data tells a positive story overall, there are real warning signs in these findings for the progressive world. The political landscape as we know it has changed and we need to respond accordingly.
We cannot allow the reactionary right to set the agenda and find ourselves cornered into a position of defense. We must not be complacent in thinking the demographic base that has traditionally supported our causes will remain constant.
If a rising tide of reactionary right politics goes unchallenged, we leave the door open for hatred and division to take hold in our communities.
Our groundbreaking Fear & HOPE reports have explored what pulls us apart but at the same time what brings us together. For over a decade, these reports have identifies the drivers of fear and hope and the triggers that push people from one to the other.