07 June 2020
The UK is dividing as the lockdown is eased
Three groups that are more aligned with underlying political identities have formed
New King’s College London analysis of an Ipsos MORI survey from 20-22 May reveals that divisions are forming among the UK population as the lockdown is relaxed.
The study, which was supported by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King's, finds that the country is dividing into three broad but distinct groups with different levels of fear about Covid-19 and different levels of trust in the government.
Compared with early April, when support for the lockdown was largely unrelated to party political or Brexit support, these groups are much more aligned with party political loyalties and Leave and Remain identities:
“The Trusting” (38% of UK)
Very worried about the health impacts of the virus, but still by far the most likely to be putting their trust in government:
- Nine in 10 trust the government to handle the crisis and the information it provides on the virus.
- Six in 10 support the relaxation measures announced on 10 May – the highest of any group and the only with majority approval.
- Seven in 10 think the government has done a good job of protecting UK residents from the virus.
- But the Trusting still have a very high view of the health risks: nine in 10 see Covid-19 as a risk to others, and the group estimates they have a 45% chance of being hospitalised if they catch the virus.
- Seven in 10 say Covid deaths are one of the two most serious problems caused by the pandemic, well ahead of the economy.
- They are split on the current approach to relaxation, but are the most supportive of the three groups: 46% say the lockdown is being eased too quickly, while 42% say it’s about the right pace.
- They are among the most accepting of continuing restrictions if a vaccine can’t be found, with half comfortable with children being home-schooled over the very long term.
- Voted Conservative over Labour by 57% to 20%, and Leave over Remain by 63% to 37%.
“The Dissenting” (38%)
The most worried about the health risks, and most critical of the government’s response:
- Nine in 10 think the lockdown is being eased too fast, and just one in 10 support the relaxation measures announced on 10 May.
- One in 10 trust the government to handle the crisis and 3 in 10 trust the information it provides – the lowest of the groups.
- Just 4% think the government has done a good job of protecting people.
- 44% think the authorities are deliberately reducing or hiding the coronavirus death toll – the most of any group.
- Nine in 10 see Covid-19 as a risk to others, and the group estimates they have a 47% chance of being hospitalised from the virus.
- Eight in 10 say Covid deaths are one of the two most serious problems, ahead of impacts on the economy and education.
- They are the most accepting of restrictions staying in place over the very long term if no vaccine is available.
- They are the least comfortable with returning to normal – one in 10 would feel fine sending their children back to school when allowed.
- Voted Labour over Conservative by 52% to 16%, and Remain over Leave by 67% to 33%.
“The Frustrated” (24%)
The least worried about the health risks, most likely to be finding lockdown hard, and most likely to think the restrictions should be lifted faster:
- Two in five think the lockdown is being relaxed too slowly, around six times as many as the other groups.
- They are most likely to say they’re finding the lockdown hard, and over half say the current measures will become extremely difficult for them within eight weeks.
- Six in 10 say the economy and jobs are one of the two most serious problems, compared with three in 10 who say increased deaths are more serious – a much greater emphasis on the economy than other groups.
- Half think too much fuss is being made about the risk of the virus, making them over 10 times more likely to have this view than the Dissenting.
- The most ambivalent on the government’s response, but a third think the number of coronavirus deaths is being deliberately exaggerated by the authorities – the most of any group.
- The most likely to be facing job losses and financial difficulties.
- The most comfortable about returning to their workplace and children going back to school, and least accepting of restrictions continuing over the very long term if a vaccine can’t be found.
- Half see Covid-19 as a risk to others, and the group estimates they have a 26% chance of being hospitalised from the virus – much lower than the other groups.
- Voted Conservative over Labour by 42% to 32%, and Leave over Remain by 56% to 44%.
The analysis is based on the findings of a survey of 2,254 UK residents aged 16 to 75 from 20-22 May conducted by Ipsos MORI.
Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
“We went into the lockdown incredibly unified, with nine in 10 of the public supporting the measures – but we’re becoming much more divided on the way out. In particular, our views are now aligning much more clearly with our underlying political identities.
“The Trusting group, for example, have just as high fears about the direct health risks as the Dissenting group, but they have utterly different views of the government’s response. The Trusting are putting their faith in the government, the Dissenting very clearly are not, with only 4% thinking the government has done a good job.
“But these two groups are not entirely aligned to party support – nearly one in five of the Dissenting group are Conservative voters, showing how important perceptions of the virus response are likely to be in ongoing political support.
“The Frustrated are quite different, with a much clearer view that we’re relaxing the restrictions too slowly. This seems to be driven by a much greater focus on the economic impacts, and in turn, a high number of this group are already suffering from financial and other impacts from the lockdown.”
Dr Daniel Allington, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London, said:
“The costs and benefits of the lockdown are not shared out equally. It is the elderly who are most at risk from Covid-19, but the biggest sacrifices have been demanded of young working people – especially parents – and of children, who have lost precious months of their education. The size of the Trusting group shows that many people will follow the government’s lead even if they are personally afraid. But as the social costs of lockdown continue to grow and a vaccine remains a distant hope, it will become more and more difficult to choose between the contradictory demands of the Dissenting and the Frustrated.”
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,254 adults aged 16-75 in the UK using its online i:omnibus between 20 and 22 May 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.
For this analysis, respondents to the survey were then grouped through k-means clustering using R v. 3.6.1. All ordinal and numeric variables concerning experiences of life under lockdown, expectations for the future, assessment of problems and risks, and views of the government’s handling of the crisis were given equal weight in determining similarities between survey respondents. Demographic information, voting history, and questions used to assess knowledge of the coronavirus and the official response were not used for clustering purposes. However, once the clusters were identified, these variables were used to supplement the analysis of the clusters themselves.