The big political story of the year, in England at least, has been UKIP’s sustained popularity in opinion polls and at elections. All commentators expect the party to challenge both Labour and the Conservative’s electoral-base and possibly even hold the balance of power next May.
It’s interesting to reflect on how far they have come. Back in 1999, in a previous job, I worked with UKIP on two opinion polls to establish their potential level of support. We prompted people to consider whether they would vote for a political party that pledged to ’retain the pound for ever and to leave the European Union’. Even then, 25% of people said they would support the party; but during the European election that year, only 7% did. At that time UKIP failed to engage all of its potential support.
Jump ahead 15 years and 27% voted for them in the 2014 European elections.
A reading of this is that UKIP has improved its ability to engage supporters rather than any significant change in public opinion. Indeed, trends on attitudes towards the European Union itself show little change in opinion over this time, one way or the other.
This year we at NPC worked with Ipsos MORI to do our own opinion polling. We focused on public attitudes towards charities but also collected data on voting intention to see if there is any relationship between the two. Our most recent analysis, Charities, voters & trust, shows that UKIP voters trust UK charities the least; around half said their trust and confidence in charities was five or less out of ten, compared to fewer than one in three supporters of other parties.
However, rather like the European Union, negativity towards charities has not changed over the last ten years. We also found that UKIP supporters, apart from their view on international charities, don’t have particularly different perceptions of charities or any particular complaint that they feel strongly about compared with other political supporters. Rather I’d argue that this is a similar case of people who were already negative or mistrusting coalescing around the UKIP political narrative. Other research showing that UKIP supporters have lower levels of trust towards other British institutions backs up this interpretation.
Our polling also revealed that UKIP supporters have quite similar views to those who are politically undecided or say they would not vote in a general election. It may be that these two groups are linked by a sense of disillusionment with the main political parties.
Our report concludes that, while charities are still more trusted than many parts of UK society, the fact that one in three people say they mistrust us should be a concern. This could partly be seen as a function of wider mistrust towards government, politics and institutions, which charities have become associated with and that UKIP is now giving voice to (although this is not to deny a range of specific issues about charities that we will cover in a follow-up paper next year).
Knowing this might help the sector target its messages, as we have an easier way to identify who the critics are—although bringing round the sceptics could be challenging, particularly when mistrust often has deep roots.