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The Policy Institute was commissioned by Engage Britain to review the available evidence on whether and how British society is divided.
The review finds:
- The number of people who strongly identify with a political party has declined significantly, and is now far exceeded by the number who strongly identify with their side of the Brexit vote.
- People on both sides of the Brexit vote dislike the opposing side intensely even though they don’t necessarily disagree with their positions on salient issues.
- Evidence that the UK has become more polarised when it comes to people’s positions on salient issues is much less clear.
Overall, the available evidence suggests that the UK is seeing a fragmentation of political support, alongside so-called "affective polarisation" related to people's Brexit identities. This is when individuals begin to segregate themselves socially and to distrust and dislike people from the opposing side, irrespective of whether they disagree on matters of policy. These Brexit identities are superseding weakening party-political ones, the report concludes.
Polarisation during the 2019 general election campaign
Further analysis on divisions in Britain was conducted by the Policy Institute during the 2019 general election campaign. Using data from a survey of over 2,000 adults aged 18-75 conducted between 27 and 29 November, the analysis finds that people’s Brexit identities have grown stronger, that opposing groups have very negative views of each other and the two main parties’ leaders, and that there are widespread misperceptions about how the “other side” feels about important political issues such as the NHS.
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