Snap polls (1)
Mini-blogs covering public opinion and a mix of topics — Levelling-Up, optimism, Biden’s infrastructure package and heatwaves
Level and local
The ambition behind the Government’s Levelling Up programme is to “spread opportunity more equally across the UK”. It is a policy that has always been well-grounded and a new, baseline Ipsos index finds geographical variation in how the public feels in terms of government spending and being left behind.
Public priorities for Levelling Up vary by geography, reinforcing the necessity of being sensitive to spatial difference; as the White Paper puts it, “Levelling Up is not about making every part of the UK the same”. But the UK is the same in two important respects:
· Most people, everywhere, do not expect the policy to be successful in the far-term let alone the near-term.
· There is a lot of negativity about the mission relating to devolution.
Theory is one thing, delivery another. Perhaps Levelling Up needs something else; I’m calling it Localling Down. The term won’t catch on, but maybe the concept should.
It is hard to be positive right now. The news is unremittingly gloomy, crisis talk abounds. I remember a colleague in 2020 describing Coronavirus as a public health crisis wrapped inside a climate crisis. How many crises are we facing now? The pandemic — still with us — and the invasion of Ukraine have contributed to stagflation, a cost-of-living crunch, a predicted recession, a summer of strikes and ‘backlog Britain’.
Research by UCL has found that people are now more worried about their finances than they are about catching Covid. Dr Daisy Fancourt has said that new psychological stressors are becoming dominant.
According to Ipsos, 7 in 10 of the public think the general economic condition of the country will get worse. Nearly 6 in 10 think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Satisfaction with the NHS is lower than it has been for 25 years. But who will fix it? Lack of faith in politicians is the third most salient issue in the monthly Issues Index.
So, it was a welcome relief to me at least to hear experimental psychologist Steven Pinker’s take on things the other day. He disabused any notion that his renowned optimism was based on some naïve confidence that things will get better. Instead, his view is that humankind is resourceful and adaptable.
We are facing some ‘wicked’ policy challenges but there are a menu of possible solutions. Maybe it is a question of willpower and sound judgement, and there is nothing written in the stars that says these are impossible. Let’s hope.
Building a future
Talking of not having much to shout about, Joe Biden’s presidency hasn’t been well received by Americans and his approval rating has even fallen behind Donald Trump’s, but it is slowly trickling upward according to Ipsos surveys.
Yes, it is a relative improvement, and the midterm elections will still likely be grim, but fortunes are changing, at least for now. The newly passed ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’ — described by the White House as a “once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness” — ticks a lot of Americans’ boxes.
It is a necessary improvement in infrastructure and economic stimulus and, important for Democrats, a landmark response to the climate crisis. So too is the joined by the tax-and-spend ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ package — something of a misnomer given its primary focus on climate measures.
Working “across the aisle” and getting major policy initiatives going might provide the Biden administration with a boost as could be the possibility of visible improvements to the physical fabric of the nation. Boris Johnson wanted to “build, build, build”, and boost the economy, but didn’t really do it. There have been huge compromises but Biden has a start.
As most of Britain swelters for the second time this summer, much has been said about the potentially transformative effects of the weather on public attitudes. That may be the case, but it could also be over-stated.
When Ipsos ask people when Britain will start feeling the effects of climate change, 72% say we are already feeling the effects. This is up 5 points from April but matches the 73% who said the same in both July 2019 and August 2021.
There hasn’t really been a change in attitudes about when the UK government should target bringing the country’s contribution to climate change to ‘net zero’. 52% think the UK should do this before 2050 (down 3 points from July 2019), 7% think the target should be achieved more slowly (up 3 points). One in ten say there should not be a target (unchanged).
A timely edition of Radio 4’s Positive Thinking recently featured Anab Jain who believes immersive ‘pre-experiences’ of the future will push decision-makers and the public into action to address the climate crisis. An Ipsos poll during the first heatwave found 6 in 10 said that the weather was hotter than they expected. Over 8 in 10 said that the weather was too hot. Few think Britain can cope well with the weather when temperatures exceed the typical temperature for the season.
People were already concerned about climate change. As autumn replaces summer, economic issues will hold attention. But perhaps summer 2022 and its drought status will push the need for climate adaptation as well as mitigation up the agenda.