Ipsos MORI Issues Index: 2017 in review

The NHS and Brexit replace Immigration as the biggest issues facing Britain in 2017

Ipsos MORI Issues Index: 2017 in review

The author(s)

  • Michael Clemence Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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  • Across 2017 the biggest issue facing Britain was the NHS, mentioned by nearly half of the public (48%)
  • Concern about Brexit was in very close second place (46%), and was the biggest single issue of the year
  • Worry with immigration fell notably; one quarter (26%) of the public mentioned it as an issue in 2017, compared with 40% in 2016

Aggregated data from all twelve 2017 waves of the Ipsos MORI Issues Index shows that the NHS was considered the biggest issue facing Britain across the year. In total close to half (48%) of the British public cited the health service as a worry, an increase of twelve percentage points since 2016. Brexit was in a very close second place on 46%, a rise of sixteen percentage points from the 2016 average. However, Brexit wins out as the single biggest issue of the year, seen as the number one concern by 31% of the public; the figure for the NHS was 14%.

Another big shift in the 2017 figures was in the proportion mentioning immigration. In 2016 four in ten (40%) mentioned this as a concern, making it the biggest issue facing Britain; the figure for 2017 was 26%. Elsewhere in the top ten, concern about education rose by four percentage points from the 2016 average to 21%, while the proportion mentioning the economy and unemployment fell by five and four percentage points respectively.
Biggest issues facing Britain: 2017

National Concerns

Looking to the nations and regions of Britain, there were differences in opinion about the biggest issues facing the country:

  • Unlike England, and Britain more widely, the Scottish public considered Brexit to be the biggest issue facing Britain; 51% cited this as an issue, compared with 45% for the NHS. Scots were also slightly less concerned about immigration (22% versus 26%) and defence/terrorism (17% compared with 21%) than Britain as a whole. They were also much more likely to cite issues related to devolution and the Scottish Parliament (13% versus 2%), although in Scotland this area this ranks ninth overall.
  • In Wales the NHS was the top concern for 2017, and was mentioned by a greater proportion of the public than in Britain more generally (55%, compared with 48%). Concern about Brexit was slightly lower (42% versus 46%), while worries about immigration were substantially higher than the British average. Thirty-seven per cent of Welsh participants mentioned immigration as a big issue for the country, compared with 26% across Britain.
  • Like Scots, Londoners saw Brexit as be the biggest issue facing Britain; 43% mentioned it, just ahead of the NHS on 40%. In the capital concerns about the economy and housing were significantly higher than the national picture (both 28%, compared with 21% and 17% respectively), and worry about poverty/inequality was five percentage points higher than the national average (20%, versus 15%). Concern with pollution and the environment also made the Londoners’ top ten, on 12%.

The tribes of 2017

Analysis of the first nine months of 2017’s Issues Index data was used to define the Five Tribes of 2017 – a segmentation using responses to the Issues Index to group the British public into distinct communities of shared concern. It identified five such groupings:

  • Young, Urban and Unengaged (28% of the public): Members of this group are younger, more urban-based and more ethnically diverse than the wider population. They have diffuse concerns, with no single issue predominating. Unemployment and the NHS are the key issues.
  • Bothered by Brexit (26%): Slightly older than average, members of this group are more middle class, and much more male than the British public overall. They are fixated on Brexit, and are far more likely to mention it as a concern than any other issue. Their views on Brexit are mixed: groups associated with Leave and Remain votes are both present.
  • Public Service Worriers (21%): Two thirds female, this group are strongly middle class, and over half hold a degree. This group are highly likely to worry about the NHS, as well as education – in addition to being concerned about Brexit.
  • Traditional Misgivings (21%): The oldest and least ethnically diverse grouping, they are more female than male and the most likely to have no formal qualifications. The NHS is their top issue, but what makes this group stand out is their heightened concern with immigration.
  • The Hyper-concerned (4%): Another middle class grouping, a high proportion have a degree. This group is also the most suburban or rural-based and middle aged. This small group are highly likely to worry about most issues: more than 70% will mention the NHS, Brexit and education as issues.

Political divides

There are differences of emphasis across the political divide, although most voters share the same top two issues – the NHS and Brexit.

Labour and Conservative supporters are similarly worried about the NHS, with half of both parties’ supporters mentioning it as a concern (51% for Labour, 50% for Conservative). Conservatives are more worried still about Brexit (58%), making it their top issue, while for Labour supporters it is clearly their second-biggest issue (41%). There is greater divergence in views on second order issues; for example, immigration is the third-biggest issue for Conservatives on 39% while it does not feature in the Labour top five. Labour supporters’ third-biggest concern is education.

Liberal Democrats were the most concerned about Brexit, with 71% citing it as a worry. However, they were also strongly concerned the NHS, with 59% mentioning it.

Non-voters were most concerned about the NHS – 34% believed it to be one of the biggest issues facing Britain. Brexit fell outside their top two issues; they put immigration second on 28%, with Brexit just behind on 26%.
Top five issues for Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and non-voters

Technical note

Ipsos MORI's Issues Index is conducted monthly and provides an overview of the key issues concerning the country. For the 2017 aggregate data from the twelve waves of the study carried out in 2017 were combined: across this period Ipsos MORI interviewed 11,890 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. The answers given are spontaneous responses, and participants are not prompted with any answers.
Ipsos MORI's Capibus vehicle was used for this survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face and in-home across twelve monthly surveys carried out in Great Britain. Data are weighted by month to match the profile of the population.


The author(s)

  • Michael Clemence Ipsos Public Affairs, UK