NEWS15 March 2018

Truth and prejudice in the Brexit landscape

Brexit Impact 2018 News Public Sector UK

UK – How insight can help better understand the changing nature of our social fabric following the Brexit vote was explored by researchers at MRS’s Impact 2018 conference.

Brexit panel at conference_crop

The political distance between Leavers and Remainers remains large and Jigsaw Research conducted a project to look at the challenges facing us all along this Brexit journey.

Luke Perry, deputy head of qualitative, Jigsaw Research presented the findings, and said: “A healthy democracy rests on the quality of the public conversation, but facts are taking second place to emotion and intuition.”

He described the level of debate as having “broadsheet complexity with a tabloid tone”. And while there is a shift from the very ‘us and them’ discourse leading up to the referendum, to one that’s more about working together, he said cynicism remains the safest option for many.

People are moving into a news avoidance zone as the Brexit narrative becomes exhausting – “the world is a scary place and people want to shut it out – the sense of uncertainty is too uncomfortable for people.”

Within this context, confirmation bias is even more powerful. And people are being drawn to those politicians they see as speaking with authentic voices – be that Farage, Trump or Corbyn ­– seeing them as ‘speaking for me’ and ‘speaking honesty’.

Catherine Hunt, head of insight and evaluation, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office Communications said the findings of this research demonstrated how little the public trusted government and media.

“As insight professionals we’re responsible for our organisations understanding how people think and feel and what they do. It’s going to get harder to listen, but our job is to cut through all this and find solutions.”

She reminded the audience that fake news wasn’t new, it has always existed. “We should see the social debate as an opportunity not a challenge. This is nothing new and we shouldn’t forget that,” she said.

Insight agency BritainThinks and the Aziz Foundation, an independent body to help disadvantaged communities in Britain, presented research looking specifically at attitudes towards Britain’s Muslim population.

BritainThinks ran nine focus groups in five locations among people sceptical about Muslims, as well as an online survey of 2000 adults.

Founding partner, Viki Cooke, said what they found were mixed attitudes and a large minority with negative views: 31% supporters; 31% neutral and 32% sceptical – with 12% very negative. Those that are sceptical were more likely to be men, older and unfamiliar with Muslims.

So, what are the drivers for the negative attitudes? Terrorism; but that wasn’t the only one. Others were: religion is incompatible with our western views; segregation; drain on resources; the grooming scandal; and anti-social behaviour.

“More than half of sceptics think Muslims can’t integrate in society,” said Cooke.

In particular there was a demand for Muslims to speak out after terrorist attitudes and BritainThinks worked with the Aziz Foundation to determine what the most effective response would be.

Tufyal Choudhury, research and policy lead, Aziz Foundation shared their pointers on how Muslims could be more effective in their response. It included unconditional condemnation in the strongest possible terms; showing empathy for the victims by using strong, emotive language; and incorporating references to positive contributions made by British Muslims.