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25 May 2022

UK most likely to say government ignores rules – international study

The UK public have a far more negative perception of government rule-following than some other nations


PERITIA: Public attitudes towards national government and other institutions

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Six in 10 people (62%) in the UK think their government ignores rules and procedures – the highest across six countries included in an international study.

The research, based on survey data from over 12,000 people, reveals the UK public have a far more negative perception of government rule-following than some other nations.

For example, a third of people in Germany (35%) and Norway (34%) say their government ignores rules and procedures, and across the six nations surveyed, an average of 44% feel this way – far lower than in the UK. In Poland, which has the second-worst perception on this measure, half (50%) think their government disregards rules.

The six countries included in the study – the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway and Poland – were selected to reflect a range of different contexts across factors such as location within Europe, population size, GDP levels, political structure and levels of trust in institutions, as measured in other studies.

The research, carried out by the Policy Institute at King’s College London as part of a project investigating public trust in expertise, compares the UK public’s perceptions of their government with views of national governments in other countries.

The study shows that many governments face challenges with trust and legitimacy, with the Polish and UK administrations worst rated on certain measures:

  • A majority in Poland (68%) and the UK (56%) feel the government’s values are mostly different to theirs. This perception is next-most common in Italy (50%), and lowest in Norway (39%).
  • In the UK, 61% say the government usually ignores people like them – above the six-country average of 54%, with only people in Poland (66%) more likely to feel ignored by their government.
  • Poland stands out in being seen by their population as acting unfairly towards people like them, with 63% agreeing with this. The UK comes next, at 49%, slightly ahead of Ireland (42%), Italy (42%) and Germany (41%).

Majorities of the UK public doubt the government’s trustworthiness – but this is similar to views of national governments in some other countries

Across a range of questions that assess views of government trustworthiness, most of the UK public have an unfavourable perception – although this is largely in line with views in other nations:

  • A majority (52%) of people in the UK think the government is not honest and truthful, virtually the same as the average perception of national governments across the six countries surveyed (50%).
  • Among the UK public, six in 10 (63%) say they are usually cautious about trusting the government – similar to Italy (62%) and Ireland (59%) but higher than in Germany (49%) and Norway (41%).
  • Across the countries surveyed, six in 10 (61%) think their national government does not communicate accurate and unbiased information, compared with a third (35%) who think it does. This is exactly the same for the UK public’s view of their government.
  • 59% of the UK public say they are unsure whether to believe the government – similar to the six-country average of 54%.

Two-thirds think the UK government is not well respected

In line with these findings, two-thirds of people (66%) in the UK feel the government is not well respected, while a third (31%) think it is. Poland is the only nation where a higher proportion feel their government is not well respected (76%).

And views on this question become more negative with age: 40% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the UK feel the government is well respected, but this declines to 23% among those aged 55 and above.

The UK has the most negative feelings towards the European Commission

Looking at perceptions of other institutions, 33% of people in the UK rate their feelings towards the European commission negatively – the highest among the nations surveyed, and above the six-country average of 23%.

Germany is second-most negative about the Commission, with 24% holding an unfavourable view of it, while Ireland has the most favourable perception, with just 14% feeling negatively about it.

People in the UK are also least likely to say that the European Commission shares similar values to them: a quarter (27%) feel this way – slightly lower than Germany (31%), which is next-most negative about the Commission’s values, and below the average of 37% who hold this view. People in Poland are most positive about the Commission on this measure, with half (49%) feeling that it holds similar values to them.

Other institutions and sources of expertise: social media, traditional media and scientists

Across the countries surveyed, people in the UK are among the most likely to say they feel negatively about social media platforms (40%), with similar proportions in Germany (38%) and Ireland (36%) feeling the same.

The UK public also have a comparatively unfavourable view of news and media organisations – one in three (31%) feel negatively towards them as an institution. Only in Poland (32%) is the media viewed in a similarly negative light.

One group of people who are viewed positively in all countries is scientists. An average of just 6% across the nations included in the study take a negative view of scientists working at universities. The most favourable perceptions are found in Ireland and Italy, where 56% of people feel positively about such scientists, in line with the UK (55%).

The findings from this research were produced as part of PERITIA, an EU-funded project that aims to help citizens and policymakers understand trust in science and identify trustworthy expertise.

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

“This major study across six countries clearly shows the challenge many governments face with the public’s perceptions of their trustworthiness. None of the countries in the study do particularly well, with large proportions in each saying they’re cautious in trusting their government, disagreeing that they are honest, truthful and provide unbiased information – although people do tend to be more positive in Norway and Germany than other nations.

“The key point of difference that stands out in the UK is that six in 10 say the government ‘ignores rules and procedures’, compared with an average of 44% across the countries as a whole and only 34% in Norway – which will likely reflect the widespread coverage of ‘partygate’. It is important to focus on rebuilding this perception, as it could affect the legitimacy of government and the public’s willingness to comply with the rules themselves.”

Survey details
This survey was conducted drawing on the proprietary online panel of Savanta in the UK and similar panels in their network in the other countries. Quotas were set to ensure sufficient responses within each country in terms of age, gender, region, education, and income. Once data collection was complete, weights were applied to observations to create a sample reflective of the population in age, gender, region, education, and income. Sample sizes were: 2,017 in Germany; 2,030 in Ireland; 2,044 in Italy; 2,045 in Norway; 2,168 in Poland; and 2,042 in the UK. Data were collected directly from respondents via a self-completed online survey. Fieldwork dates ranged from 4th-19th January 2022.

The PERITIA project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 870883.

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