Friday 13 September 2013

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey - and clinching proof of BBC bias

'Long post' warning, but hopefully you'll find it interesting....

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey makes absorbing reading - especially its interactive charts showing, in graphic detail (pun intended), how British public opinion has changed between 1983 and 2013. 

I'll try to summarise the findings here.


1. Should the government increase tax and spend?

Those saying it should rise increased from 32% in 1983 to a peak of 65% in 1991, dipped a little (and wobbled around) before climbing back to a peak of 63% in 2002, before falling all the way back to 34% in 2012. This is good news for those on the Right politically.

2. What should be the priority for extra government spending?

No surprises here. In 1983 63% said heath and 50% education, and in 2012 that stood at 71% for health and 61% for education. 

As for the fraught issue of overseas aid, that stood at 1% in 1983 and it still stands at 1% in 2012 (so it's never been much of a priority for the British public). 

Defence has taken a predictable course. It was 8% in 1983 (after the Falklands), then immediately began falling away as a priority hovering around 2-3% for much of the 1990s and early 2000s. It began climbing again from 2004, thanks (presumably) to the Iraq and Afghan Wars, reaching a peak of 11% in 2011. 


3. Attitudes towards unemployment

The trajectory here is very clear - towards a tougher attitude towards benefit recipients. This is good news for those on the Right politically.

46% thought unemployment benefits were too low in 1983, now that's just 22%. Similarly, the number agreeing that if welfare benefits were less generous people would be better able to stand on their own two feet has risen from a low of 25% in 1993 to 53% in 2012.

4. What should be the priority for extra government spending on benefits?

The top answer here has always been retirement pensions (somewhere between 64% and 80%), with disability benefits coming second (usually around the 55-60% mark). Support for child benefits has risen from 20% in 1983 to 38% in 2012; however, reflecting the trend found in the previous question, the support for extra spending on unemployment benefits has halved from 32% in 1983 to 16% in 2012.


5. Attitudes to marriage 

The liberal trend here is unsurprising. Though the numbers saying that extramarital sex is wrong have remained constant - and high (around 85%) - those saying that premarital sex is wrong have fallen from 28% in 1983 to 11% in 2012. Most dramatically, those agreeing that people who want children should marry has fallen sharply from 70% in 1989 to 42% in 2012.

6. Attitudes to homosexuality

The liberal trend here is even more marked. Those saying that homosexuality is always/mostly wrong stood at 74% in 1987. That has plummeted to just 28% in 2012.

7. Which religion do you belong to?

In 1985 the top answer was 'Church of England' with 36%. 'No religion' came second with 34%, followed by 'Other Christian' at 17% , 'Roman Catholic' at 11% and 'Non Christian' at just 2%. 

In 2012 the top answer was 'No religion' with 48%, followed (a long way behind) by 'Church of England', falling sharply to 20%, 'Other Christian' remaining steady at 17%, 'Roman Catholic' falling slightly to 9% and 'Non Christian' leaping to 6%.

This is hardly unexpected.


8. Do we trust politicians?

The answer is 'no'. This is terrible news for politicians - not that it should come as a surprise to them. Though the figures have periodically risen and fallen - they have fallen overall from 38% in 1986 to a mere 18% in 2012. The low was 16% in 2009, presumably because of the expenses scandal.

9. How important is it for Britain to have a monarchy?

Great news for monarchists. In 1983 86% said it was quite/very important to have a monarchy. That had fallen to 59% by 2003, but is now back up to 75% in 2012. As for those supporting abolition, that was just 3% in 1983 and just 5% in 2013. 

10. Is it your duty to vote?

Those saying it is your duty to vote stood at 68% in 1994 and remains fairly high at 62% in 2012. The number of people identifying with no particular party has risen from 6% in 1984 to 21% in 2012 (with a particularly steep rise over the last seven years).

11. Attitudes to the European Union

The number of those who want us to continue in the European Union has fallen, but not quite as significantly as I'd expected. From high points of support of 74% in the 1990s, the figure now stands at 61%; however, those supporting withdrawal has risen quite steeply from 11% in 1993 to 31%. As for those wanting us to be part of a single EU government, they have fallen in number from a lowly 9% in 1993 to a paltry 3% in 2012. Not good news for the likes of Lord Heseltine then. 


12. Are you satisfied with the NHS?

The overall trend for satisfaction with the NHS overall fell from 51% in 1984 to 34% in 1997 but - and this will please Labour - then rose to a peak of 70% in 2010. In 2012 (the year of Danny Boyle's Olympic hymn to the NHS) it still stood at 64%. Where it will be after the scandals of the last year, it will be interesting to see over the coming years.

The Environment

13. Attitudes to the environment

There were two questions here. The first question asked, "Do you agree that people should be allowed to use their cars as much as they like even if it damages the environment?" This saw 19% agreeing in 1991 and 26% agreeing in 2012. Perhaps suggesting those low figures are a case of people not daring to tell the pollsters the whole truth, the second question asked, "Do you agree car users should pay higher taxes for the sake of the environment?", and resulted in 26% agreeing in 1991 but only 15% agreeing in 2012. The Green Party won't be happy.


The media coverage of the survey has been rather disappointing.

The Guardian gave a couple of decent overviews, though (being the Guardian) they managed to ferret out the faintest glimmer of good news for Ed Miliband - Changing British attitudes: rise in support for benefits since last year - and ran with it, by-passing the fact that the overall trend has been dramatically running against Ed Miliband for the last thirty years. Still, that's a left-wing newspaper's prerogative - to spin a story any way it likes. If it's readers don't like it, they can lump it or stop reading the paper. 

The right-wing Daily Mail (and for any passing BBC employees, Boo!) gave the survey a good bit of coverage, but took the opposite angle to the left-wing Guardian - Now even claimants admit they are getting too much in benefits: 59 per cent of those given handouts think they discourage work, and Pensioners are more deserving than jobless say UK's young voters as poll shows drift to the right. They also covered the Telegraph's terrain too, concentrating on the morality findings - Britain has become a 'live and let live' society over last 30 years with landmark changes in how homosexuality and religion are viewedOnly 42% back marrying before children: Belief a couple should wed before having a family falls sharply over past 20 years. They also touched on class - Middle class? Not us: 60% say they are working class... the same as 1983.

What of the BBC? Well, surprisingly, there's nothing yet from Mark Easton, their Home Affairs editor. He's usually keen on this sort of thing. It surely can't be because he doesn't want to report the decline in support for tax and spend or the marked hardening of attitudes to welfare over the last thirty years, can it?

As ever with such a mega-sized monolith as the BBC, it's impossible to have seen or heard everything, but I've seen and heard very little about this survey on the BBC.

I saw a bit about the findings on class on Newsnight - an interview with socialist Terry Christian - but the only angle the BBC seemed to be interested in, in this whole vast treasury of information, was...wait for it...
British Social Attitudes Report finds softening attitudes to benefits
Yes, exactly the same helpful angle the Guardian ferreted out to help Labour.

Except that - unlike the Guardian - the BBC article (and Today followed suit) barely even makes the most perfunctory attempt to concede that the British Social Attitudes Survey went much beyond that.

Please read the British Social Attitudes Survey linked to above and then compare it to that BBC's article, with its selective citing of marginal rises in support for benefit payments in the last couple of years. The BBC article is an absolute travesty, isn't it?

It plugs away at that single point like a robotic (Labour) politician (not mentioning Rachel Reeves's name) banging away at the same narrow furrow throughout the course of an interview. It's really quite something.

I'm trying very hard not to rant here, but that BBC's take is so partial - and so inadequate - that it leaves me almost speechless.

Thankfully, this is a blog and I don't need to speak, merely write.

So I'll note that the other points the BBC articles deigns to report are (a) "for the first time in 30 years, more people said they were interested in politics than in the previous 12 months", (b) some 18% said they trusted the government to regularly place the country's needs above their own party's interests, compared with 38% in 1987, (c) the reputation of the monarchy has been enhanced recently, with 45% believing it "very important" for it to remain, compared with 27% in 2006, (d) the survey suggests that Britain has become significantly more tolerant of same-sex relationships, with 22% declaring them "always wrong", compared with 64% in 1987 and (e) nine out of 10 people trusted banks when the survey began in 1983 - that has fallen to just two out of 10.

So people like politics, don't like the government, like the monarch, don't mind same-sex relationships and don't trust banks.

Except for the pro-monarchy bit - and along with the pro-benefits point - this is as clear an example of what interests the BBC as it's possible to get. It ignores so much in the survey which is inconvenient - or merely uninteresting - to a certain (left-of-centre) mindset that it is, I think, as clear a proof of BBC bias as you can get.

Do you agree?

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