Trust in politicians in Britain unchanged over past 30 years says Ipsos/Mori CEO

“The idea that there was a golden age when people trusted politicians is a myth,” says Ben Page, an opinion-poll expert in the UK

 Ben Page: “When we polled people earlier this year, only 24 per cent believed that we should replace elected politicians with professional managers.”

Ben Page: “When we polled people earlier this year, only 24 per cent believed that we should replace elected politicians with professional managers.”

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 01:00

The belief that trust in politicians has fallen to an all-time low is a myth, according to Ben Page, an opinion-poll expert in the UK.

Mr Page, chief executive of Ipsos/Mori, said in an interview with The Irish Times, that trust in politicians in Britain hasn’t changed over the past 30 years.

“It has always been about 19 per cent. It was a bit lower during the expenses scandal but it has never been high,” he said.

Mr Page pointed to a Gallup poll in August 1944, when a Conservative/Labour coalition led by Churchill was fighting the Nazis, which showed that even then only 35 per cent of people believed their politicians were acting in the best interests of the country.

“The idea that there was a golden age when people trusted politicians is a myth,” said Mr Page.

He added, however, that it was important to look behind the headline figure and understand that people still generally believed in representative democracy, with all its problems.

“When we polled people earlier this year, only 24 per cent believed that we should replace elected politicians with professional managers,” said Mr Page, putting in context the suggestion that successful people such as Richard Branson should be put in charge of the country.

“I think the joy of representative democracy is not having to take personal responsibility for anything and being able to give somebody else a good kicking. We secretly like doing that. That’s the conclusion I have come to after doing this for a quarter of a century,” he said.

Mr Page said that one of the big social changes identified by polling is that party loyalty has declined significantly from one generation to the next.

“What we ultimately found was that people who were born before 1945, for example, are pretty much as likely as ever to support the party they grew up with. My generation, the 1945 to 65, generation are less loyal and every subsequent generation is less loyal still.

People are less collectivist

“So what you are seeing when you see the decline in support for an individual party, isn’t that everybody is switching off party politics; it is simply the changing perspective of the generations.”

He also pointed to a massive difference between the generations on social issues such as gay marriage.

“We are seeing that some of the biggest shifts in Britain are around personal liberalism and sexuality, and the role of men and women, and we are seeing bigger shifts on that than we are on, say, attitudes towards the health service.

“The young are much less collectivist than the pre-1945 generation. For Britain the second World War was this moment when we were all in it together. The NHS, the welfare system, the education system, all come out of that period and the further away from it you are, the less those institutions matter to you.”

On the current big issue in British politics, the referendum on Scottish independence, Mr Page said that it is very unlikely to be carried.

“There has never been a single opinion poll where the majority have said they want to leave. So now you have still got a 14-point lead or more for No and unless all the undecided swing around and decide that Alex Salmond is a genius and to be trusted with the economy, a Yes vote seems very unlikely. It is not impossible but it does seem very unlikely.”

‘Scotland will vote No’

Mr Page said that the margin had narrowed slightly during the summer but since Mr Salmond lost the televised debate with Alistair Darling it had widened again.

He said the expectation before the debate was that Mr Darling was going to get a good thrashing but that did not happen.

There is another debate on August 25th and, while that could change things a little, it was unlikely to make a big difference.

“The evidence on debates, certainly the British and the American experience, is that while they attract interest, it is only in a marginal situation that they are decisive and the Scottish referendum is not close enough for that to happen.

“In the British election of 2010 the voting in the actual election, after all the fuss and bother of the three debates, was almost identical to where it all was a month before they began.

“So it looks as if the referendum in Scotland will be lost. The real interest may well be in whether Salmond can get over 40 per cent to back his case.”