New British Election Study research from experts based at The University of Manchester and Royal Holloway shows that while Boris Johnson’s scepticism about coronavirus lockdowns was out of step with the views of the wider British public, it was largely in line with those of Tory voters.
In recent testimony to a Parliamentary Select Committee, Dominic Cummings claimed that Johnson’s view of the coronavirus was that “the real danger here is the measures that we take to deal with the disease and the economic destruction that that will cause.”
While many have challenged the view that there is a tradeoff between the economy and saving lives, this has largely been the framing of the debate. The researchers therefore felt it was important to know where the voters stood on this apparent tradeoff, and where they perceived the parties as standing.
To understand how coronavirus affected the political views of British voters, the British Election Study interviewed 34,692 people in June 2020, while the first wave of the coronavirus was still raging and Britain was still under an unprecedented lockdown.
The researchers asked people about their opinions on coronavirus policies, experiences of lockdown, and political opinions.
They found that the British public as a whole perceived the Conservatives as valuing the economy over reducing infections – this is out of line with the public as a whole, but broadly fits with the preferences of the Conservative party’s 2019 voters.
Despite coronavirus only entering the political consciousness four months earlier, the researchers found that British voters already had clearly structured views about coronavirus by June 2020.
The views of voters on coronavirus-related policies such as lockdowns and mask-wearing were more strongly correlated with views on traditional economic issues such as redistribution and workers’ rights than cultural issues such as criminal justice and Brexit.
“Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, British politics has realigned along Brexit lines – this is one of the reasons why there is now so much debate about ‘culture war’ issues,” added Research Associate Jack Bailey. “What’s most interesting about our findings is that voters’ views on the coronavirus seem to follow the traditional left-right divide, and not newer cultural ones.”
“While the politics of coronavirus were unprecedented, British voters quickly worked out how they felt about the key policies,” added Dr Chris Prosser.
To view the research paper, visit https://academic.oup.com/pa/advance-article/doi/10.1093/pa/gsab030/6288133?guestAccessKey=81ccd2ec-4333-4f89-99a9-5296414fea94