A world apart? Brits have grown more positive about immigration

A new global study by Ipsos MORI for the BBC Crossing Divides series highlights that almost half of Britons think that political divisions pose more of a danger to society than they did 20 years ago.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs
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A new global study by Ipsos MORI for the BBC Crossing Divides series highlights that almost half of Britons think that political divisions pose more of a danger to society than they did 20 years ago – although on the other hand Britons are more likely than the global average to think that political divisions are healthy for society.  The study, carried out online among adults under 65 across 27 countries, also finds that:

  • Close to half of people in the UK (47%) believe that society is more in danger now because of political divisions than it was 20 years ago.  Four in ten (41%) think political divisions are healthy for society, three in ten (31%) believe they are dangerous.
  • Just over a third (36%) feel comfortable sharing their political views with people who don’t agree with them
  • While three in five (61%) believe that social media has increased participation in social debates among people who wouldn’t normally take part, the same proportion (60%) thinks that social media platforms are making debates about social issues more divisive than they used to be, which is higher than the global average (54%).
  • But despite seeming political divisions, Brits lead the way in being the most positive about the impact of immigration on their country (48% vs 24% on average across the 27 countries). 
  • View the global survey findings

Main Findings

Half of Britons think political divisions are more of a danger to society than 20 years ago, but Brits are also more likely to think that political divisions in their country are healthy for society than the global average

  • Four in five Brits (85%) agree that there are political divisions in society (vs 81% globally) but despite the ructions that Brexit has caused, Brits are more confident that these divisions are healthy for society (41% compared to 33% globally).  Findings are very similar across the home nations: Northern Ireland (36%), Wales (41%), England (41%) and Scotland (38%).
  • Nevertheless, a third believe these divisions are dangerous (31%, which is the same as the global average). Only 13% think these differences have no significant impact on British society.
  • Close to half of Brits (47%) think that society is more in danger now because of divisions between people’s different political views than it was 20 years ago, with little difference across the nations.

Half believe that it is important to listen to people with different viewpoints, but only a third say they talk to others who have opposing views on a weekly basis.

  • Half (53%) of Britons think it is important for them to listen to people who are different to them, even if they disagree with them they still want to understand them.
  • However, despite saying it is important to listen to others, just three in ten (29%) Britons say they have conversations with people who have opposing views to their own (on issues such as politics, climate change, immigration and feminism) on at least a weekly basis, which is lower than the global average (35%). Although, half (52%) say they have such conversations at least once a month. Just one in ten (11%) say they never speak to people holding opposing views to them.
  • Meanwhile, three in ten (31%) say that most of their friends share their political views, which rises higher for views on feminism (40%), immigration (38%) and climate change (42%).
  • Ipsos MORI found that in 2017, two in three (65%) people globally thought that the average person in their country lives in a bubble on the internet, only connecting with people like themselves and looking for opinions they already agree with. However, only one in three (34%) think they connect to people like themselves or look for opinions they already hold.

Politics is a thorny subject – just over a third say they’re comfortable sharing their political views with other people who might not agree with them

  • Just over a third (36%) Britons feel comfortable sharing their political opinions with other people who do not necessarily agree with them, while one in five (21%) feel uncomfortable.
  • Two in five (38%) say they feel more comfortable in groups of people who are similar to them. Similarly, three in ten (31%) Britons say that all or almost all their friends are the same ethnicity. There are variations in the nations, with over half saying this in Wales (51%) and Northern Ireland (52%), but just a quarter in England (28%). One in five Brits say their friends are all of from the same age group (20%) or of a similar level of education (17%).

Political views are fairly entrenched; half of all people think that people with opposing views are unlikely to change their opinions regardless of the evidence presented.  However, only one in five believe that those with opposing views don’t care about the future of the country

  • Around a half of Brits (49%) agree that people with opposing political views to their own are unlikely to change their opinions regardless of the evidence presented, which is in line with the global average (49%).
  • Just a fifth (21%) of Britons agree that those with opposing views don’t care about the future of the country, which is lower than the global average (28%), and even less so in Scotland (15%) and Wales (15%). And around a quarter of Brits (26%) say that people with opposing views do not care about people like them, which is lower than the global average (31%).
  • Around a third (34%) of Brits believe that people with opposing political views to them have been misled (16% disagree). Three in ten (30%) in Scotland agree, and two in five in Northern Ireland (37%).
  • Despite political differences, only one in five (20%) think that people with opposing political views to them aren’t worth trying to have a conversation with.
  • Two in five Brits (38%) say that over half of their friends share the same views as them on Brexit, while only 12% said less than half do.  Close to three in ten (28%) say that do not know their friends’ position on Brexit, which is notable given that Brexit is one of the key dividing lines in UK politics. Those who feel positive about immigration are significantly more likely to say over half of their friends share their view on Brexit with nearly half (47%) reporting so.

Social media – boon or curse?  Views are mixed; it has enabled more people to join in on social debates but it has made society more divisive

  • Across the United Kingdom, three in five (61%) agree that social media such as Facebook and Twitter is giving a voice to people who would not normally take part in debates about social issues. While this the same as the global average (61%), it rises to over two in three in Wales (68%), but is lower in Scotland (54%).
  • Britons are slightly less convinced that social media platforms are breaking down barriers between the public and people in power, at just two in five (39%) compared with 44% across the world. Although this is mainly influenced by under a third (31%) of Scots thinking so, as it is higher in England (40%), Wales (44%) and Northern Ireland (48%).
  • At the same time, three in five (60%) think that social media platforms are making debates about social issues more divisive than they used to be, which is higher than the global average (54%). And the picture is broadly the same in the nations: England (60%), Northern Ireland (62%) and Wales (62%) and the figure for Scotland is 53%.
  • These findings match with Ipsos MORI’s Audit of Political Engagement for the Hansard Society, which also showed mixed views towards social media. In this research, most agreed (55%) that social media gives a voice to people who wouldn’t normally take part in political debate, but a similar level said it was making debate more superficial (46%) and divisive (49%).

While globally more think that immigration has had a negative impact on their country rather than positive impact, Britons lead as the most positive

  • The UK leads the world in being most positive about the impact of immigration. Globally, around a quarter (24%) think that immigration has had a positive impact on their country.  This rises to 48% in the UK and is similar across the nations - England (48%), Scotland (47%) and Wales (47%) and Northern Ireland (42%). This aligns with findings from previous Ipsos MORI research, which shows that concern about immigration has been declining since the EU Referendum in 2016. Concern peaked in September 2015, with over half (56%) identifying immigration as the most important issue facing Britain, whereas now it is nearer one in five (19%).
  • All nations are similar in levels thinking that immigration has had a negative impact on their country: Wales (20%), Northern Ireland (22%), England (22%) and Scotland (23%).
  • Different demographics in Britain are notably less positive about immigration, as figures drop to nearer to two in five (37%) for those aged between 50 to 64 (compared with 54% of those aged 18-34), and just one in four (26%) of those with no formal qualifications (compared with 59% of degree holders).

Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute said

With Brexit being seen as the biggest issue facing the nation and highlighting many fractures between people with different views, our study shows that half of Brits think that political divisions are posing more dangers for society than they did 20 years ago.  This may contribute to the fact that only one in three feel comfortable talking to people with opposing political views, and the half who are sceptical that their opponents will change their minds regardless of the evidence.  However, there are some grounds for optimism - Brits are more likely than the global average to think that these divisions are healthy for society, and most still think it is important to continue to listen to people with opposing views – only a minority think people on the opposite political side don’t care about the future of the country.  And it is notable that one of the key issues leading to Brexit was immigration – yet, Brits are twice as more positive about the impact of immigration than globally.

Technical Note

  • This survey is an international sample of 19,782, adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and age 16-64 in all other countries, were interviewed. The Fieldwork was conducted from 26 November -7 December 2018. Approximately 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel with the exception of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, where each have a sample approximately 500+.  In the United Kingdom interviews were boosted in nations to give 206 in Scotland, 202 in Wales, 208 in Northern Ireland. In England 874 were conducted. Data are weighted to reflect correct proportions in the four nations. For differences to be significant between the nations, a difference of around 10 points is required.
  • 15 of the 27 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and United States).
  • Brazil, China, Chile, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is more urban & educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens.  We refer to these participants as “Upper Deck Consumer Citizens”.  They are not nationally representative of their country.  Not all questions were fielded in China and Saudi Arabia. 

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs

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