25 August 2011

IPPR’s Three Tribes

An old joke recycled: There are three kinds of people who believe that there are three kinds of people: those who do, those who don’t and those who don’t know.

In the Guardian in July Allegra Stratton reported that Graeme Cook, from the think-tank IPPR, is proposing that the electorate has changed and that it no longer helps to think of swing voters and core voters, and in terms of the upper, middle and working classes. Instead he offers ‘three new tribes, and they do not have life-long loyalties to political parties’:
Pioneers (41% of Britons) are global, networked, like innovation and believe in the importance of ethics.
Prospectors (28%) like success, ambition, seek the esteem of others and if they think a party can help them help themselves, they are on board.
Settlers (31%) see things in terms of right and wrong, are wary of change, seek security and have a strong sense of place – patriotism and national security motivate them to vote.  All the social classes split up in roughly the same proportions. Settlers were most numerous after 1945, but as people became steadily more affluent, "post-material attitudes" dominated and so now Pioneers are the largest group.
Cook points out that:
"The question is which politician can harness the Pioneer, the Prospector and the Settler in a convincing way." The trick for politicians is to match up the different interests of the three groups like on a fruit machine. It is a complicated manoeuvre but it's what Miliband has managed to do on phone hacking.
… After the Milly Dowler hacking revelations, a campaign suitable for Pioneers suddenly became appealing to Settlers too. Prospectors joined in as it became clear to them at some point that Miliband was "winning".
Miliband's natural base is Pioneers. But the Lib Dems and Greens appeal to this group too.
and the Tories also know which buttons to press:
Cook reflects that: "When Gove talks about school discipline, he is talking to Settlers. When Cameron talks about increasing aid to 0.7%, he is talking to Pioneers. And when George Osborne is talking about the deficit and tax, he is talking to Prospectors."
I looked for more about Cook’s research on the IPPR website, but it seems to be a work in hand and should be reporting later in the year. It certainly seems to be a different approach from the legendary ‘C2 housewives over 30’. To test out his proposal, I thought it might be informative to look at some recent polling results on major issues.

The key findings from an Angus Reid poll about Europe in July were:
57% say EU membership has been negative for the UK; 32% believe it has been positive (11% not sure)
49% would vote to leave the EU in a referendum; 25% would vote to stay in (27% not sure or wouldn’t vote)
81% would vote against the UK adopting the euro; only 8% endorse this idea (11% not sure or wouldn’t vote) 
This seems to suggest that even the ‘global’ Pioneers are divided over Europe.

YouGov@Cambridge polled in June about attitudes to International Aid for PoliticsHome and found that 41% were very or somewhat favourable towards it, 38% very or somewhat unfavourable, 17% neither.  This would give a good alignment of pro-aid and Pioneers only if none of the latter were neutral on the subject.

In August, Survation surveyed attitudes to crime and punishment including the death penalty for the Mail on Sunday. Its re-introduction for certain crimes was supported by 53%, opposed by 34% and 13% didn’t know.

The measure seems to appeal beyond the Settlers.

The factor missing from the IPPR typology (at least as described in the Guardian) is that of age, though it is implicit in the suggestion that Settlers have been in decline since 1945 and Pioneers are on the rise. The three polling examples indicate how important it can be. YouGov@Cambridge conclude that ‘Older voters are far more likely to be opposed to the principle of international aid than young people’ as can be seen in their chart below:

The Angus Reid poll also shows an increasingly negative view of Europe in older age groups, and the Survation poll showed an increasingly tough attitude about the death penalty for groups over 40:
The Survation poll also showed that on certain issues, gender has a significant effect on attitude:
The educational experiences of different age groups reflect the continuing expansion of opportunity over recent decades. Among the over 55s, about half finished full-time education before the age of 16, whereas about a third of the under 35s had finished under 18. (Source: Populus poll June 2011)

A much higher proportion of the full-time education has been at a university (in name) in recent years (data from an earlier post):

Whether older people’s attitudes reflect biologically-driven changes in psychological outlook due to ageing, or past levels of formal education is something that will become clearer over the next few decades. Perhaps by the time people reach 60 it is the experience gained on courses in the 'University of Life’ which counts.  However, formal educational seems to be inversely related to propensity to vote, for example in terms of turnout at the 2010 General Election, cited by MORI. The gender difference seems to be slight except for females under 25 who seem to find politics even less interesting than their male contemporaries. 

Britain, thankfully, has become an increasingly less class-conscious society, in which the majority of people now regard themselves as ‘middle class’, however squeezed they may be feeling. It therefore seems worthwhile to seek out categorisations other than the old favourites of A, B, C1 etc. It will be interesting to see whether Graeme Cook develops his Pioneer, Prospector, Settler model to accommodate those two eternal aspects of the human condition - age and gender, particularly when the former seems to be a major factor in variations in shaping opinions and in propensity to vote across the electorate.


Grame Cook has now published Still partying like it's 1995 on the IPPR website which fills out his views on the 'political sociology' of modern Britain in some depth.  He seems to have moved away from the three types above, and looks at age as a factor in determining political opinions, if not gender.

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