Public divided over support for rail strikes

Around one in three support the current rail strikes, with the same number opposing them

The author(s)

  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Keiran Pedley Public Affairs
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs
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  • 35% support this week’s strikes. 35% oppose.
  • Public more sympathetic to rail workers than government or rail companies but most sympathetic of all to passengers.
  • Trade unions seen as playing an important role by the public but many past strikes seen as ineffective and unreasonably disruptive.

New research from Ipsos, undertaken Monday 20th to Wednesday 22nd June, examines support for this week’s rail strikes and attitudes to trade unions more generally. A nationally representative online poll of 994 Britons aged 18-75 found:

1. Almost 6 in 10 (59%) following strikes closely – less than cost of living but still a majority.

Following story2. Public split on whether they support or oppose current strikes. 35% support and 35% oppose.

Support / oppose

  • 56% of 2019 Labour voters support the strikes. 60% of 2019 Conservative voters oppose.
  • Those aged 18-34 (39% support, 25% oppose) and those aged 35-44 (44% support and 33% oppose) are more likely to support than oppose. Those aged 55-75 are more likely to oppose than support (50% oppose and 27% support).

3. When the reasons for the strikes and the potential scale of disruption are explained to the public, support increases marginally – from 35% to 41%.

Reasons prompted4. The public have sympathy for workers over the govt / network rail / rail companies in the current strikes but most sympathy of all is reserved for passengers.

Sympathy5. 85% think it is important to have trade unions to protect workers interests. 48% say this is very important. 9% say it is not important and 6% don’t know. This includes 96% of Labour voters from 2019 saying this is important and 77% of 2019 Conservative voters.

Important6. Public split on whether unions have too much power in Britain today. 32% say too much, 29% say too little, 25% say about the right amount and 14% say don’t know. Meanwhile, 6 in 10 (61%) think workers have too little power.

Power7. When asked about strikes in recent years, the public are as likely to blame unions as employers for acting unreasonably but strikes often seen as causing unnecessary disruption and the public are often sceptical they are effective in achieving their aims.

Strikes

Keiran Pedley, Director of Politics at Ipsos, said:

As it stands, the public are divided over whether they support or oppose the current rail strikes, with younger Britons and Labour voters more supportive and older Britons and Conservatives typically more opposed. Passengers receive the most sympathy from the public, although a majority sympathise with railway workers too. Meanwhile, there is a clear public consensus that trade unions are important in protecting workers rights in Britain, although they are often sceptical that past strikers have been worth the disruption caused or have been effective in achieving their aims. Time will tell how public opinion evolves on these particular strikes as the week progresses.

Technical note

Ipsos UK interviewed a representative quota sample of 994 adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain. Interviews took place online between 20th and 22nd June 2022. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions.

The author(s)

  • Kelly Beaver MBE Chief Executive, UK and Ireland
  • Keiran Pedley Public Affairs
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs

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