30 March 2023
UK has internationally low confidence in political institutions, police and press
But Britons’ views of the EU have become increasingly positive post-Brexit
Trust in trouble? UK and international confidence in institutions
Read the research
The UK has internationally low levels of confidence in its political institutions, with confidence in parliament in particular halving since 1990, new data shows.
Of more than 20 countries included in a study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, the UK fares poorly on confidence in the government, political parties, parliament and the civil service.
Added to this, younger generations have experienced some of the biggest shifts in attitudes: confidence in the government among Millennials in Britain has halved since 2005, falling to its lowest level on record in 2022, and Gen Z have very low levels of confidence in a wide range of institutions.
But while perceptions of domestic political institutions are particularly negative, Britons’ views of the EU have become increasingly positive post-Brexit – to the extent that the public are now far more likely to have confidence in the EU (39%) than in parliament (23%) or the government (24%), with confidence rising among all generations, including older cohorts.
The new research also looks beyond politics, at perceptions of other key institutions, and finds:
Of 24 countries, only Egypt (8%) has lower levels of confidence in the press than the UK (13%).
UK confidence in the police is low compared with other peer nations, and has fallen from 87% in 1981 to 67% in 2022.
The analysis was carried out as part of the World Values Survey (WVS), one of the largest and most widely used academic social surveys in the world, in operation since 1981.
The latest UK data was collected in 2022, with data for other nations collected at various points throughout the latest wave of the WVS, which spanned 2017 to 2022.
Perceptions of parliament were at their most positive in 1990, when 46% of the British public said they had confidence in it. By 2009, this had halved to 23%, before rising to 32% in 2018. But in 2022, confidence had fallen back to its historic low of 23%.
This shift means the UK ranks among the bottom half of countries for confidence in parliament, behind many of its European neighbours, including Germany (43%), France (33%) and Spain (32%), and even further behind Norway (70%) and Sweden (64%).
Meanwhile, from 1999 to 2009, all adult generations in Britain had virtually the same level of confidence in parliament, but in 2022, a clear generational divide in views had opened up, with the Pre-War generation (34%) and Baby Boomers (28%) most likely to have confidence in parliament, and Gen Z (18%), Millennials (17%) and Gen X (19%) least likely to.
The UK (24%) ranks in the bottom third of countries for confidence in the government – far behind many peer nations such as Norway (59%), Canada (46%) and Germany (44%), and on a par with the likes of Poland (23%), Brazil (23%) and Italy (23%).
Britons’ confidence in the government has declined since 2005 (33%), when trends began, and the latest data shows a fall since 2018 (29%) – although not to the level seen in 2009 (19%), when confidence was at its lowest.
And there have been considerable shifts in attitudes by generation: in 2005, two in five (41%) Millennials said they had confidence in the government – a figure that had halved to one in five (20%) by 2022, the lowest on record. However, this is to some extent likely to be a reflection of normal party preferences among younger people, given the change from a Labour to Conservative government in 2010.
Confidence in political parties is low across most higher-income democratic nations – but the UK has among the least, with just 13%.
This puts the country on a par with Brazil (13%), Italy (13%) and France (12%), but notably behind other peer nations such as Norway (36%), Sweden (32%), Canada (24%) and Germany (23%).
And while trends in British attitudes only go back to 2005, they show public perceptions have been persistently negative, with no more than 17% reporting confidence in political parties during this period.
The civil service
Around half (49%) of the UK public say they have confidence in the civil service – much higher than the share who say the same of political institutions. But the UK still ranks among the bottom half of countries on this measure.
Norway (70%), Sweden (63%) and Germany (62%) lead the pack among western nations, while the UK is more on a par with Australia (49%) and Spain (47%).
Between 1990 and 1999, the share of the British public who said they had confidence in the EU more than halved, from 47% to 22%. After remaining around this level throughout the 2000s, it has begun to rebound considerably in recent years: by 2018, 32% had confidence in the EU, and in 2022 this had risen further, to 39%.
This shift means that, in 2022, Britons were far more likely to have confidence in the EU (39%) than in parliament (23%) or the government (24%). People in Scotland are particularly positive (50%), behind only Spain (52%) among all the European nations included in the study.
Other findings also point to increasingly positive perceptions:
While younger generations are much more likely to have a favourable view of the EU, perceptions among older groups have nonetheless improved significantly. For example, in 2005, 18% of Baby Boomers said they had confidence in the EU – a figure that had almost doubled, to 34%, by 2022.
The UK public are now far more likely to say they’re disappointed (49%) rather than happy (24%) that the country voted to leave the EU, a split that applies across all four UK nations, with people in Scotland (59%) and Northern Ireland (54%) most disappointed.
Of 24 countries, only people in Egypt (8%) have less confidence in the press than the UK (13%).
The share of the British public who said they had confidence in the press halved between 1981 and 1990, falling from 30% to 14%. But since then, perceptions have barely changed.
Indeed, views among most generations have shifted little since the mid-2000s, with the exception of the Pre-War generation, whose view of the press has become increasingly positive.
In 2022, 25% of this oldest generation said they have confidence in the press – much higher than any other cohort – while just 5% of the youngest generation, Gen Z, said the same.
67% of Britons reported having confidence in the police in 2022 – down from 87% in 1981.
This decline means the UK now ranks in the bottom half of countries on this measure, with confidence notably lower than in many other higher-income nations such as Norway (88%), Germany (86%), Sweden (86%) and Australia (81%).
Gen Z (44%) are the only generation in Britain where less than half reported having confidence in the police in 2022 – far below other cohorts, around seven in 10 of whom all said the same.
But this is still down on previous levels of confidence among older generations. For example, 83% of Baby Boomers said they confidence in the police in 1981, but this has now fallen to 71%.
Data for London residents is only available going back to 2009 and should be treated with caution given relatively small sample sizes – but the trend suggests that confidence in the police among those living in the capital dropped sharply between 2018 and 2022, when it fell from 73% to 55%.
This shift coincides with a period in which the conduct of the Metropolitan Police was increasingly under scrutiny following its handling of various high-profile cases.
Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
“The UK has long prided itself on the strength of its institutions – but the British public are not as convinced as they once were, and we are now more negative than many other countries. Confidence in parliament has halved since 1990; we’re among the least likely of more than 20 countries in the study to have confidence in the government; confidence in the police has fallen sharply, particularly in London; and only Egypt has less trust in their press.
“Some institutions fare better, with our courts system relatively highly rated, and the civil service coming out much better than our political institutions. Our confidence in the EU has also bounced back post-Brexit, and now we’re much more likely to have confidence in it than our own parliament and government.
“Beneath this overall picture there are some very clear differences and drivers of change, with some worrying signs among younger generations. Millennials have lost a lot of trust in government and parliament, which is perhaps not surprising given the number of policy decisions that have gone against them in recent years. Gen Z are coming into adulthood with dire levels of trust in the police, the courts and the press. This could shift again as they age, but it’s a really challenging starting point for the legitimacy of these institutions in the eyes of the coming generation.
“There are also significant variations between nations in the UK, with Northern Ireland particularly negative about all of their political institutions, ranking near the bottom of international league tables on their views of parliament, government and political parties. Scotland also stands out as particularly positive about the EU, with higher levels of confidence than countries that are still in the EU, including France and Germany.
“These trends matter. The pandemic showed how much we rely on public cooperation in times of crises, with confidence crucial to that, and the review of the Met police concluded ‘public consent is broken’. We need to work hard and quickly to shore up public confidence.”
2022 UK data comes from a random probability sample of 3,056 adults aged 18+ interviewed by Ipsos through a mix on face-to-face and online survey methods. Data has been weighted by region, education and age interlocked with gender to be nationally representative.
For analysis of trends over time, data is nationally representative for Great Britain due to a lack of available trend data from Northern Ireland, and is based on surveys of 1,000 or more people aged 18+.
Samples for other countries are all nationally representative and made up of at least 1,000 people. Information on the sampling methodology these nations is available via the World Values Survey Association website.
Data produced for this research is used in wave 7 of the World Values Survey, which included around 90 countries and ran from 2017 to 2022. See the full report for the precise year each country was surveyed. The report focuses on a cross-section of 24 countries selected based on the availability of reliable and weighted data and then narrowed down, focusing on global coverage (based on the UN's standardised country coding system), regional coverage and population size. This selection gives coverage of 12 of the 17 UN M49 geographic regions across 24 countries, representing almost 50% of the world's population (source: World Bank). Not all questions are asked in each country in every wave of the study, and so the number of countries compared on each question can vary.