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Attitudes to Different Levels of Government

Much of the attention given to the results of last month’s BBC/ICM poll was devoted to their findings on the main UK party leaders, and to the answers given to their regular question on constitutional preferences. However, the poll covered a number of other interesting areas.

One, which I’d like to highlight here, concerned attitudes to different levels of government. The poll used a slightly different question format from those I’ve seen in previous studies, so it is worth explaining in full.

Respondents were asked the following three questions:

“Which one of the following political institutions do you have the most respect for?”

“Which one of the following political institutions do you trust most to do the right thing for people?”

“Which one of the following political institutions do you think is most likely to improve things for you and your family?”

Respondents were then allowed to choose between several options for each question:

  • Your local council
  • The Welsh Assembly
  • The Westminster Parliament
  • The European Union
  • None of them
  • Don’t Know

 

This set of questions thus probed some interestingly distinct aspects of attitudes to the main levels of government in the UK.

So what did people say? The following table summarises the poll’s results for the three questions:

Most Respect For Trust to Do Right Thing Most Likely to Improve
Local Council 24% 26% 20%
Welsh Assembly 31% 35% 38%
Westminster 26% 21% 26%
European Union 7% 6% 6%
None of them 9% 10% 6%
Don’t Know 2% 2% 4%

 

What can we make of these results? The thing that most immediately stands out from the figures, to me at least, is that the National Assembly scores highest for all three questions. Although its lead over the other levels of government on the ‘Most Respect’ question was rather narrow, on the ‘Trust’ and ‘Most Likely to Improve Things’ questions the Assembly is rather further ahead of both local councils and Westminster. We might want also to note that the Assembly scores these leads despite the fact that local councils actually did pretty well themselves in another question in the same poll, one which specifically asked about local service delivery. So the responses here don’t seem to be just reflecting a sort of ‘best of a bad lot’ set of attitudes.

Instead, I’d be inclined to view these results as being consistent with some others that have suggested that, while most people seem to retain at least some degree of suspicion about all politicians and governmental institutions – an attitude that I’d generally regard as fairly healthy – there has developed a broad, basic goodwill to the Assembly amongst many people in Wales. We must not over-state this: few, if any, are wildly in love with the National Assembly and its members. But as well as being generally supportive of the principle of devolution, the majority of people seem to have come to regard the Assembly as – whatever other faults it may have – an institution that will at least be concerned with and focussed on the interests and problems of the people of Wales.

For the other levels of government, it is interesting that the Westminster Parliament scores least well on the question about trust. The latter half of the fieldwork for the poll was actually administered as the recent Rifkind/Straw ‘scandal’ story was breaking; this may have influenced responses. It may also be the case that the memory of previous expenses problems lingers long for some people. It is also notable, if entirely unsurprising, that the European Union scores least well on all three questions. In fact I was slightly surprised that it scored as high as 6-7% on these three items! More optimistic news for Europhiles came elsewhere in the poll, however: when asked whether or not the UK would be better off remaining in, or outside, the European Union, there was a strong balance (63% to 33%, with 4% Don’t Knows) in favour of remaining in the EU.

Overall, I think this was an interesting and innovative set of questions for the BBC/ICM poll to run. I think they should be applauded for doing so. And I hope they repeat the items at least occasionally in the future, so that we can see whether attitudes on these matters change over time.

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