Three-quarters of the public think divisions around the so-called culture wars are exaggerated by the media – but Brits still think there’s a problem.
A new study published today revealed that 77 per cent of Brits believe the media often makes the country feel more divided than it really is, with a third saying they strongly agree with that sentiment.
A further 44 per cent think politicians invent or exaggerate culture wars as a political tactic.
But that doesn’t mean the UK public is not worried about divisions across society, according to new findings from the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos Mori.
Half the country thinks the UK is now the most divided it’s been during their lifetime, though 44 per cent take a less negative view, arguing Britain has been through similar or worse times before.
A similar proportion think culture wars are a serious problem for UK society and politics, although 34 per cent neither agree nor disagree that this is the case.
“It may seem that the public are contradictory on the source and extent of culture wars – with large proportions saying both that they’re exaggerated in the media or stoked by politicians but also exist in ‘real life’. But of course, both can be true,” said Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London.
“We do, then, need to take cultural division seriously – but also bear in mind two points. First, while large proportions will agree that we are experiencing a culture war or that we’re divided, very few strongly agree: we hear a lot about the extremes in heated debates, but most people are not as fired-up as it seems.
“And second, we always feel like we’re in the most divided times, because we forget the tensions of the past. Together, these mean we shouldn’t think we’re necessarily set to divide further, and we need to focus on the vital importance of encouraging connection.”
The survey comes amid increasing debate over topics such as race, gender and sexuality, with commentators observing stark contrasts in views between different generations.
This has been brought to the fore through recent events including Brexit, the Black Lives Matter movement, Extinction Rebellion protests and rows over free speech and statues of historical figures.
According to the research, Brexit and differences in wealth are seen as particular sources of tensions within the UK, with 38 per cent thinking there is a big divide between Leavers and Remainers.
People also see tensions around immigration, politics and cultural values, as well as the idea of “metropolitan elites” versus “ordinary working people”.
The research also found that some of the UK’s divisions were reflected in various groups’ differing views towards equal rights, cultural change and class.
Just under a quarter of the public think things have gone far enough in the UK when it comes to giving equal rights to black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, but this rises to 45 per cent among Leave supporters.
This is almost four times the proportion of Remainers who feel the same.
Around a fifth of the population believe equal rights between women and men have gone far enough, but Conservatives are around twice as likely as Labour supporters to agree with this view.
And despite the focus on cultural divides, the public are still more likely than not to say the country is more divided by class than it was 20 years ago.
Just under half of Brits think this is the case, but Labour supporters are more likely than Tory voters to feel this way.
Further figures showed the problem of so-called filter bubbles, where people are only exposed to people with like-minded views.
The survey showed Labour voters are nearly twice as likely as Conservatives to say most of the people they interact with online share their political views.
This difference was also observed in real-life interactions with people such as colleagues and close friends.