Half of Britain wants voting system to change, with clear majority among Labour supporters
For the first time since the British Social Attitudes survey began in 1983, more people in Britain favour introducing proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons than keeping the voting system as it is.
The survey, by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), found this shift in attitudes is largely the result of an increase in recent years in backing among Labour supporters.
- 51% now favour reform to the voting system for elections to the House of Commons, up from 27% in 2011 and 43% in 2017.
- 44% believe the voting system should remain as it is, down from 66% in 2011 and 49% in 2017.
- For the first time, a majority of Labour supporters (61%) favour electing MPs using proportional representation, up from 27% in 2011 and 47% in 2017.
- 69% of Liberal Democrats, but only 29% of Conservatives, favour electoral reform.
In addition to the political divide over electoral reform, the survey highlights growing divisions over constitutional issues across the United Kingdom.
Britain more politically polarised than ever over Scottish independence
- 82% of SNP supporters now back Scottish independence, compared with only 5% of Conservative supporters. This gap between SNP and Conservative supporters has grown from 46 percentage points in 2012 to 77 percentage points today.
- In England, almost twice as many Labour supporters (30%) as Conservative supporters (16%) in England say Scotland should become independent.
- By contrast, in 2011, supporters of both parties in England were equally likely to express that view (24% and 25% respectively).
Growing divide between Scotland, England and Northern Ireland over future of the United Kingdom
- Asked to choose between independence, devolution and no Scottish parliament, just over half of people in Scotland (52%) favour independence, up from 23% in 2012.
- Conversely, only one in four (25%) in England think that Scotland should be independent, unchanged from 2012.
- For the first time, in Northern Ireland support for being part of the UK has slipped to slightly below half (49%). Support in Northern Ireland for Irish reunification has increased from 14% in 2015 to 30% now.
- Meanwhile, 49% in Britain now believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, almost twice as many as the 26% who expressed that view in 1998.
Role of Brexit in shifting attitudes towards the constitution
- 73% of pro-European Labour supporters back a change to proportional representation, compared with 52% of Labour Eurosceptics.
- 65% of Remainers in Scotland now back Scottish independence, up from 44% in 2016.
- Today only 37% in Northern Ireland who voted Remain are in favour of being part of the UK, down from 64%.
Sir John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at NatCen, said: “The United Kingdom’s politics are now beset by some fundamental disagreements about the rules and the structures that should be in place, and these disagreements are reflected in divergent views between supporters of different parties and those living in different parts of the UK. More people than ever want to change the voting system in Westminster, support for leaving the UK has also grown in Northern Ireland, and supporters of the major parties in Scotland and England are more polarised than ever over the question of how Scotland should be governed.
Not least of the reasons for this is Brexit, which seems to have helped fuel partisan disagreement about the country’s constitution. Some Remain voters appear to have reacted to being on the losing side in the EU referendum by now wanting to change the rules under which the UK is governed. Far from representing a set of conventions and procedures on which most people agree, the UK’s constitution appears at risk of becoming a political battlefield on which the parties seek electoral advantage. Still, it will be up to politicians to decide whether to pursue that advantage or try to find and build a new consensus.”
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Notes to editors
1. British Social Attitudes (BSA): the 39th Report will be published on 22nd September 2022 at www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk. Advance copies of chapters from the report available on request. The editors are Sarah Butt, Elizabeth Clery and John Curtice. The views expressed in the report are those of the authors and editors alone.
2. The full list of chapters in this year’s report: Taxation, welfare and inequality; Constitutional reform; Culture Wars; Regional differences in values; Environment and climate change; Disabled people at work; NHS and social care; The NHS in Scotland and England.
3. NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey has been conducted annually since 1983. It is the longest-running measure of public opinion in Britain, providing authoritative data on a range of social and political issues. Each year the survey asks around people what it's like to live in Britain and what they think about how Britain is run. Since 1983 more than 115,000 people have taken part in the survey.
4. The 2021 BSA survey consisted of 6,250 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain and was conducted between 16 September and 31 October 2021.
5. This year’s BSA survey was completed online by a representative sample of respondents who were invited at random by post. There was an option to be interviewed by phone if preferred. This is the same design as used in the 2020 BSA. Prior to 2020 BSA was a face-to-face survey, but this was changed as a result of the public health measures introduced in the wake of the pandemic.
6. The report also uses data from ScotCen’s Scottish Social Attitudes survey, and the separate Northern Ireland Life and Times survey
7. Respondents are classified as identifying with a particular political party on one of three counts: if they consider themselves supporters of that party; closer to it than to others; or more likely to support it in the event of a general election.