Culture wars

Culture Wars

Keeping the Brexit divide alive?

‘Culture war’ issues have become prominent in the media and in political debate. They reflect
disagreement about the portrayal of Britain’s colonial past and what should be done to recognise the identity and economic position of minority groups. Attitudes towards these issues are thought to align with people’s attitudes towards Brexit and, consequently, the ‘culture war’ could perpetuate the division between Remainers and Leavers that was a prominent feature of the 2019 election. This chapter analyses trends in public attitudes towards ‘culture war’ issues, the extent to which these attitudes are correlated with views about Brexit, and how far they reflect the ideological division between social liberals and social conservatives that underpins attitudes towards the EU.


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Public opinion has become more liberal on ‘culture war’ issues

Attitudes towards Britain and Britishness have become more inclusive, while more now say
that equal opportunities for minority groups have not gone far enough.

  • Only 17% now say that it is very important for being truly British that someone has been born in Britain, down from 48% in 1995.
  • In 1995 52% agreed that Britain is better than most other countries; now only 34% take that view.
  • 45% say that equal opportunities for Black and Asian people have not got far enough, up from 25% in 2000.

Issues around identity and equal rights divide social liberals and conservatives

Whether someone has a libertarian (socially liberal) or authoritarian outlook (socially
conservative) is strongly associated with where they stand on ‘culture war’ issues.

  • Two thirds of social conservatives say they feel very strongly British and believe you have to have been born in Britain to be truly British, compared with approximately one in five liberals.
  • 79% of liberals believe migrants have a positive impact on the country’s culture. Only 25% of social conservatives do.
  • Only just over a quarter (27%) of social conservatives believe that giving opportunities to Black and Asian people has not gone far enough. 71% of liberals agree with this sentiment.

Leavers and Remainers diverge in their opinions on ‘culture war’ issues

People’s attitudes towards Brexit are strongly related to their attitudes towards issues of
identity, immigration and equal opportunities.

  • Twice as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (31%) consider themselves to be very strongly British. Similarly, 65% of Leavers believe that being born in Britain is important to be truly British, compared with 34% of Remainers.
  • Only 22% of Leavers, but as many as 65% of Remainers, believe that migrants enrich Britain’s cultural life.
  • Three in five (60%) Remainers think that equal opportunities for Black and Asian people have not gone far enough, while only around a quarter (23%) of Leavers express that view.

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