Over half of the UK public say they ignore parties and politicians because they don’t know if they can trust them
Over the course of the 2019 general election we saw inappropriate and misleading campaign tactics that crossed the line: whether that was editing interview footage of rival politicians, or attempting to disguise campaign materials as the work of independent journalists.
We know bad information ruins lives and damages society. We wanted to find out what impact some of these election tactics were having on voters.
Thanks to funding for our election work from the Nuffield Foundation, we were able to commission insight and strategic consultancy BritainThinks. They conducted mixed-method research during the 2019 campaign to understand the extent to which these campaign tactics were reaching voters, and how they were affecting voters’ perceptions and behaviour.
Our democracy is built on trust, but more than half of those voters we spoke to were dismissing parties and politicians on all sides as untrustworthy. Our findings should be a wake-up call for our Parliament to use the next five years to raise the standards of public debate and rebuild trust with their constituents.
The research included four focus groups with undecided voters in Chingford and Woodford Green, and Crewe and Nantwich, and an online survey with 2,096 members of the general public weighted to be representative of the UK public.
The key findings include:
- Participants were deeply cynical about all politicians and parties telling the truth—76% of UK adults thought that voters were being misled by false and dishonest claims in this election campaign.
- Despite this cynicism, voters did engage with statements and claims from parties and politicians, and there was evidence that statements identified as false by Full Fact were believed to be true by some voters. For example, 38% believed the inaccurate claim made by the Labour party that “Under Labour’s plans, 95% of the population will pay no more whatsoever in tax. The top 5% will pay a bit more” was either completely or somewhat true, while 36% believed the inaccurate claim from the Conservative party that “The UK will be retained in the EU.. for at least another three months, at a cost of another £1 billion a month”, was either completely or somewhat true.
- ‘Actively manipulating or falsifying evidence’ and ‘making a promise to voters they know they may not be able to deliver’ were seen as the two most unacceptable behaviours that politicians and political parties could engage in (with 58% and 43% respectively selecting these as their top two most unacceptable behaviours out of a list of eight).
- Belief that politicians and parties are peddling untruths creates anger, resentment and voter apathy—54% said they tended to ignore parties and politicians because they don’t know if they can trust them. Worryingly, 17% agreed with the statement “I am less likely to vote because of the level of false and misleading claims in this election campaign”.
- When asked about specific politicians and political parties, voters were more likely to believe that politicians and political parties they weren’t voting for were putting out inaccurate information than those they were intending to vote for. 67% of the UK public who intended to vote Labour in the 2019 election said they had seen this type of behaviour from Boris Johnson, while only 25% of those who intended to vote Conservative said they had. Similarly, 64% of respondents who intended to vote Conservative in the election said they had seen this behaviour from Jeremy Corbyn, while only 13% of those who intended to vote Labour said they had.
- While recognising the value of fact checking, public concern is broader than ‘factuality’ or accuracy of statements and this research found that the integrity of politicians’ promises - as opposed to factual statements - was seen as at least as concerning.
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Download tables (pdf)