Liberals have most difficulty getting along with opponents on ‘culture war’ issues

While many people aren’t strongly engaged in culture wars at all, overall it is those on the liberal/left side of the argument who tend to be the most intolerant of people who disagree with them - new King's College London / Ipsos MORI survey.

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
Get in touch

People who support more “liberal” or left-leaning sides of debates on culture war issues such as Black Lives Matter and transgender rights, and on party politics and Brexit, are more likely to say they struggle to be friends with those who take the opposing point of view, according to a new study.

Conversely, people who support more “traditional” or right-leaning sides of these debates tend to be more incorrect on some key social realities, such as earning gaps between ethnic minority and white workers and how likely transgender people are to be victims of crime.

The research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, looks at how people on each side of six high-profile issues view each other, as well as realities related to these issues.

The study is the fourth in a series of reports that provides an in-depth assessment of the UK’s culture wars.

Party politics

  • 35% of Labour supporters say it would be hard to be friends with people who vote Conservative – five times the proportion of Conservative supporters (7%) who say the same about those who vote Labour.
  • Labour supporters are more likely to describe Conservatives as selfish (74% vs 30%), closed-minded (75% vs 59%) and hypocritical (67% vs 52%) than the reverse, and half as likely to see them as honest (25% vs 50%) than the other way around.

Brexit

  • When asked to score their feelings towards the other side out of 100 – with 100 the “warmest” feeling, and 0 the “coldest” – Remainers rate their feelings towards Leavers at 29 out of 100, while Leavers give Remain voters a much “warmer” rating of 42 out of 100.
  • 29% of Remain supporters say it’s hard to be friends with people who voted Leave in the EU referendum – around four times the 7% of Leavers who say the same about Remain voters.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement

  • 55% of BLM supporters say it’s hard to be friends with someone who opposes BLM – the joint-highest proportion of any group included in this study who say they struggle to be friends with the other side. BLM opponents (26%) are half as likely to say they would have difficulty being friends with someone on the other side of the debate.
  • BLM supporters have a particularly negative view of BLM opponents, rating their feelings towards them at 18 out of 100 – the joint-coldest rating given to a group across all the culture war issues asked about in this study. Those who oppose BLM give a slightly warmer rating of 25 out of 100 to those who support BLM.

Transgender rights

  • 47% of people who think trans rights in the UK have not gone far enough say it would be difficult to be friends with someone who thinks trans rights have gone too far. Among the latter group, 32% feel as negative about being friends with someone on the other side of the debate.
  • The lack of connection between the two main sides in the trans rights debate matches that between the two sides in the BLM debate: those who think trans rights have not gone far enough give a cold rating of 18 out of 100 for their feelings towards people who think such rights have gone too far – the joint-worst rating given to a group in this study. The latter group rate their feelings towards the former at 25 out of 100.

COVID-19

  • Lockdown supporters are much more likely to describe lockdown opponents as selfish (78% vs 44%), hypocritical (61% vs 48%) and closed-minded (73% vs 59%) than the other way around.
  • 27% of lockdown opponents say it’s difficult to be friends with people on the other side of the COVID debate – compared with 55% of lockdown supporters who say the same. This is the joint-highest proportion of any group included in this study who say they struggle to be friends with the other side.

The British empire

  • People who are ashamed of the British empire rate their feelings towards those who are proud of it at 30 out of 100. And in turn, people who are proud of the empire have almost the same negative rating, of 27, for those who are ashamed of it.
  • Those who are ashamed of the British empire (29%) are slightly more likely than those who are proud of it (23%) to say it’s hard to be friends with the other side.

The sides people take on culture war issues are linked to different perceptions of realities

How people see these culture war issues – and the “side” they identify with – tends to be associated with different perceptions of measurable facts and social issues. For example:

  • 77% of BLM supporters correctly identify that Black African, Caribbean or Black British employees earned around 9% less than their White counterparts in 2018. BLM opponents are almost half as likely to think this is the case, with 39% believing it’s true.
  • However, the public as a whole overestimate the proportion of White state school pupils who got a place on a full-time undergraduate course in 2019, and underestimate the proportion of Black pupils who did the same – with people’s position on Black Lives Matter making little difference to their perceptions. (although they have the biggest overestimate of the performance of White pupils).
  • 79% of those who support the expansion of trans rights rightly recognise that trans people are twice as likely to be the victim of a crime as the population as a whole. Among those who think trans rights have gone too far, a much smaller proportion – 33% – think this is the case.
  • 42% of Conservative supporters correctly identify that, among the 35 richest countries globally, the UK had one of the highest death rates from Covid-19 at the time of the study, compared with 60% of Labour supporters who recognise this fact.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

Disagreement on contentious and emergent issues is inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing for societies. But the risk is that it ends up splitting the public into intractable positions, where there is little chance of compromise because of how they see people on the other side of debates. And it’s clear from the study that, on a number of issues, our starting points are pretty negative – particularly among those who take more ‘liberal’ positions. Not only that, the side of the debate we identify with colours our views of measurable social realities. Both of these points are vital to recognise if we want to build greater connections and compromise between people: we need to work hard to get over our stereotypes of the other side, and recognise that simplistic myth-busting alone is not an effective way to close the divides in how we see the world.

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, said:

While many people aren’t strongly engaged in culture wars at all, overall it is those on the liberal/left side of the argument who tend to be the most intolerant of people who disagree with them. Some of this, but not all, reflects the fact that younger people (especially on the ‘liberal’ side) are often less friendly towards those with dissenting views than older people. We find different issues ‘trigger’ different groups – for the ‘liberal’ side, Black Lives Matter and transgender rights are the cause of the biggest differences, whereas attitudes to the British empire are more of a touchstone for the more ‘traditional’ side of cultural divides.

Technical details

Ipsos MORI interviewed online a representative sample of 2,834 adults aged 16+ across the United Kingdom between 26 November and 2 December 2020 and 8,558 adults aged 16+ across the United Kingdom between 1 and 7 April 2021. This data has been collected by Ipsos MORI’s UK KnowledgePanel, an online random probability panel that provides gold-standard insights into the UK population, by providing bigger sample sizes via the most rigorous research methods. Data are weighted by age, gender, region, Index of Multiple Deprivation quintile, education, ethnicity and number of adults in the household in order to reflect the profile of the UK population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

For the question on state school pupils’ attainment, Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,165 adults aged 16-75 in Great Britain using its Ipsos Digital online omnibus between 14 and 18 May 2021. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age, working status and social grade within gender, government office region and education.

Sources for “realities”

The author(s)

  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs

More insights about Culture