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Theos Civil Unrest Poll

Public poll on attitudes towards civil unrest conducted for Theos published 3 March 2011

Date Published: 03 Mar 2011

Categories: Media | Public and communities | Social | Technology & Telecoms | UK


Britain poised for a period of protest and unrest, new research reveals   

Over a third (36%) of Britons would consider taking direct action to influence rules, laws or policies, new research from the public theology think tank Theos reveals.

The study, conducted by the polling agency ComRes, asked people what kind of public action they had taken over the last twelve months or would consider taking in the future. It found that although traditional forms of public action (e.g. signing a petition) remain most popular, people expressed a marked willingness to take more direct action in the future.

For example,

- only 2% said they had taken part in a public demonstration in the last year, but 29% said they would now consider doing so;
- only 1% of people had taken part in a strike in the last year, but 19% would now consider doing so;
- less than 1% of people had posted confidential or sensitive material to a website (e.g. Wikileaks) in the last year, but 5% said they would now consider doing so;
- less than 0.5% of people had participated in illegal protest activities in the last year, but 5% said they would now consider it.

Young people are the key drivers of this trend. One in eight 18-24s said they would consider posting confidential or sensitive material to a website (compared with under 5% of anyone aged over 35). Overall, nearly half (46%) of 18-24s would consider taking some form of direct action.

Importantly, the way in which Britons are taking action is changing.  Although traditional forms of public action, such as donating money, remain popular, newer forms of 'protest' are growing fast.

In the last 12 months, as many people have started, followed or supported a campaign using social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, in order to influence rules, laws or policies as have contacted a politician.

Young people are also leading this 'hashtag' revolution. Nearly a quarter of 18-24 year olds have used social media as a means of 'influence' in the last twelve months, compared with 8% of over 55s.

In spite of these trends, more traditional means of public action are still considered more effective. Whereas only a fifth of people think use of social media is effective, nearly a half (46%) think that contacting a politician works, and 45% think contacting the media is effective.

When asked what issues they would take action about, most people said fuel prices (52%), closely followed by public service cuts (47%). These issues clearly motivated the public much more than others, such as global poverty (19%) or climate change (17%).

Commenting on the research, Research Director of Theos, Nick Spencer, said:

"The number of people saying they would consider some form of public action is always higher than the number that actually does it. Nevertheless this research reveals some important trends in the way we relate to one another and to government.

"New media seems to be offering the potential to reconnect citizens with one another and help them to work together towards common goals, countering the trends towards individualised or ‘chequebook’ participation we have seen over recent years.

"At the same time, people seem to be shifting away from traditional forms of public engagement towards direct action, including by digital means.

"What we take action about is just as important as how we do it, though. 'Hashtag' politics and direct action can become a positive force if people collaborate over issues of the common good."

- ENDS -



1.     Theos is a public theology think tank which offers research and commentary on issues relating to faith and society.

2.     ComRes interviewed 2003 GB adults online between 23 and 25 February 2011. Data were weighted to be representative demographically of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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