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25 June 2021

Britons most against political correctness globally, while country still seen as less divided than US

But in some areas, there is less of a gap between the two nations

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Culture wars around the world: how countries perceive divisions

Read the research

The British public emerge as the joint-most likely to think that people are too easily offended out of 28 countries, with only those in the US and Australia matching Britons for their negative views of PC culture, according to a new study.

The research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, also looks at perceived tensions between different groups in countries around the world, as well as the extent to which people think their nation is divided by “culture wars”.

The study finds tensions between different sections of society are seen to be worse in the US than in Britain – although on some measures the two countries have similar levels of perceived discontent between groups.

Political correctness

People in 28 countries were asked to rate their feelings about political correctness on a scale from 0 to 7, with 0 meaning people are too easily offended and 7 meaning people need to change the way they talk to be more sensitive to those from different backgrounds.

Half of Britons said they tended towards thinking people are too easily offended (51% placed themselves 0 to 3 on the scale) – the joint most anti-PC sentiment of the countries surveyed, with the US and Australia the only countries to give the same score.

Other nations, such as Sweden (47%), Canada and the Netherlands (both 45%) also score similarly in having a negative view of political correctness.

At the other end of the spectrum, people in Turkey (76% score themselves 4 to 7 on the scale), India (also 76%) and China (472%) are most likely to feel that people need to change the way they talk to be more sensitive.

Overall, most people lean towards believing we need to change the way people talk: taking the average across the countries surveyed, 31% place themselves 0 to 3 on the scale and 60% 4 to 7).

How divided is Britain seen to be compared with the average country – and with the US?

People’s views of tensions between different groups in Britain are largely in line with the average of perceived tensions across all 28 nations surveyed.

Overall, people perceive the most tension between rich and poor, with a global country average of 74% saying there is at least a fair amount. This is followed by divisions by politics (69%), social class (67%), immigration (66%), and between those with different values (65%). There is relatively less tension (but still mentioned by nearly half) seen between cities and those outside cities, between old and young, or by levels of education or between men and women.

But Britons are notably less likely to think there are tensions between those with a university education and those without one (36% vs the global country average of 47%), and somewhat more likely to feel there are tensions between different ethnicities (70% vs 62%) and between immigrants and people born in the country (72% vs 66%).

Across virtually all groups asked about, the US comes out worse than Britain for perceived tensions between them.

For example, 90% of people in the US think there is a great deal or fair amount of tension between people who support different political parties – compared with 70% who say the same in Britain.

There is a similar divide in views when it comes to perceived tensions between those who have more socially liberal values and those with more traditionalist values (85% vs 67%).

But on some other tensions, there is less of a gap between the two nations: 78% of people in the US think there is tension between immigrants and those born in the country, compared with 72% of Britons who say the same. And people in both the US (63%) and Britain (62%) are virtually equally likely to say there is tension between people from different religions.

Culture war divisions

People in South Africa (58%), India (57%) and the US (57%) are most likely to feel that their country is divided by “culture wars”, with a significant gap in opinion between them and people in Brazil (47%), who are next most likely to think their nation is divided in this way.

32% of Britons believe culture war divisions are a problem in their country, placing them just in the bottom half of nations surveyed and in line with the global country average (35%) for perceptions of such tensions.

But Britain still comes higher than some similar countries surveyed – for example, 19% of people in Germany think they have such divisions and 21% of those in the Netherlands feel the same.

Relatively few people actively disagree that their nation is divided by culture wars, with a global country average of 14% feeling this way. Instead, across the nations surveyed, 19% say they don’t know, while 32% take a neutral position, suggesting this is not a concept that many are familiar with.

Global views of tensions between different groups in society

  • The US comes top for perceived tension between different ethnicities, with 83% believing there is a great deal or fair amount in the country. South Africa, where 79% feel this way, comes second.
  • People in South Korea (87%), Chile (86%) and the US (85%) are most likely of those surveyed to say there is tension in their nation between those with more socially liberal ideas and those with more traditional values.
  • Chile (84%) and Russia (82%) are ranked top for perceived tensions between the metropolitan elite and ordinary working people.

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

“International comparisons put your own country’s problems into perspective – and the much greater sense of tension between groups in the US is a useful reminder that we don’t, yet, have nearly as deeply embedded divisions or a culture war. There are important signals, however, of the cultural preferences in Britain, with our particular suspicion of the ease with which people can take offence and the policing of speech. Of course, this tension is a constant of cultural change, as new generations and contexts have different standards, but it is still a signal of a need for an open discussion of free speech in Britain.”

Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, said:

”By taking a global perspective we can put some context around the state of so-called culture wars in the UK. While Britons are among the most likely globally to believe fellow citizens are too easily offended by what others say, in fact Britain is decidedly average in feeling divided by ‘culture wars’ compared with many other countries.”

Technical details
These are the results of a 28-market survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 23,004 adults aged 18-74 in Singapore, 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey, 21-74 in Singapore and 16-74 in 22 other markets between 23 December 2020 and 8 January 2021.

The sample consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, mainland China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the U.S., and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Chile, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, and Turkey.

The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the U.S. can be taken as representative of their general adult population under the age of 75.

The samples in Brazil, Chile, mainland China, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these markets should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.

The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.

“The Global Country Average” reflects the average result for all the countries where the survey was conducted. It has not been adjusted to the population size of each country and is not intended to suggest a total result.

Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” or not stated responses.

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