UK Electoral Hostility Barometer launched by EPO & Opinium

We are seeing alarming levels of electoral hostility in the UK and beyond
- Professor Michael Bruter
Protest Angry
I'm so angry I made a sign. Caroline Gunston, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Electoral Psychology Observatory (EPO), based at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Insight Agency Opinium have launched a new “Hostility Barometer” for UK electoral politics. Reporting monthly for the UK, and later this year for the US, the new survey will track the negative feelings British people hold towards those who vote differently from them, and wider feelings about the political climate.

The Barometer’s first wave was conducted during the 2019 European Parliament elections and uncovered a worrying picture:

  • Negative feelings towards opposing voters are widespread among British citizens. 66% feel frustration towards people who vote for parties they dislike, 60% a sense of ever-growing distance, 50% feel anger, 48% disgust, 44% contempt, and even 30% feel a sense of hatred. The hostility affects people who vote for any party, and Remainers and Leavers alike.
  • Citizens feel that the atmosphere of electoral hostility in the country is worsening, with 58% being more worried about the reaction of those they disagree with politically than before.
  • 31% of voters also say they have experienced electoral hostility personally. One in four British citizens claim to have experienced insults (25%) and one in eight threats (12%).
  • British citizens also perceived the atmosphere of the recent European Parliament election very negatively. 67% describe it as frustrating, 61% as divisive and the same proportion as tense and uncertain, whilst 50% described it as hostile and 43% as poisonous. Only 14% described the atmosphere of last week’s election as pleasant and 16% as friendly.
  • Many respondents feel hopelessness about the current political situation. 64% believe that people in the country will continue to grow further apart, 60% that politics always works for the same people, and 57% think that things will only get from bad to worse.
  • This hopelessness is illustrated by the fact that only 27% of citizens believe that the generations of their children and grandchildren will live better than the current generation.
  • Despite popular belief, Remainers tend to be more pessimistic about the future than Leavers. For instance, 56% of Leavers believe that there is hope that things will get better but only 41% of Remainers believe the same. 69% of Remainers believe that things will go from bad to worse but only 51% of Leavers.
  • Finally, when citizens are unhappy with politics, they are willing to consider fairly extreme responses. 30% would consider voting for a radical party (including 35% of people who voted Leave in the 2016 Referendum), 20% would consider leaving the country, and even one in five British people (19%) would consider taking part in a revolution.

James Endersby, CEO of Opinium said“We are proud to be partnering again with LSE’s EPO team to launch the new Hostility Barometer. After a divisive three years of continuing argument over Brexit, with months more to come, now more than ever it’s important to understand the impact this hostility has on our citizenry. Once we understand it, we can work to fix it. It will be long road but we must start to heal the divisions that are keeping us so distant from each other.”

Professor Michael Bruter, Director of the EPO at LSE said: “We are seeing alarming levels of electoral hostility in the UK and beyond, with citizens resenting others because of the way they vote. A worrying proportion of citizens think the country’s electoral atmosphere has become poisonous. To make things worse, they expect the future to bring ever more profound hatred between segments of the population with radically divided conceptions of what Britain is and should be.”

Dr Sarah Harrison, Deputy Director of the EPO added: Citizens express a growing sense of democratic frustration that signals an increasing gap between their expectations of what democracy should deliver and what they think they are getting in practice.”


Behind the article

Full data tables are available at

The Hostility Barometer consists of 12 questions and will be run monthly. It will track levels of hostility amongst British citizens, perceptions of electoral atmosphere, levels of democratic frustration as well as expectations about the future. The Barometer will also be launched in the US in the coming months.

Wave one of the Hostility Barometer was conducted on 22-23 May 2019 with a sample of 2,003 UK adults (weighted to be nationally representative) using an online questionnaire.

From June, monthly reports on the hostility barometer will also be available on the Electoral Psychology Observatory website (under construction)

The Electoral Psychology Observatory at LSE is directed by Professor Michael Bruter and Dr Sarah Harrison. The team leads the “Age of Hostility” project which conceptualised and modelled electoral hostility and develops unique measures to capture it in 27 countries. The team also studies the atmosphere of elections, democratic frustration, the psychology of voters, and the experience of first time voters.

Opinium is an award winning strategic insight agency built on the belief that in a world of uncertainty and complexity, success depends on the ability to stay on pulse of what people think, feel and do. Creative and inquisitive, we are passionate about empowering our clients to make the decisions that matter. We work with organisations to define and overcome strategic challenges – helping them to get to grips with the world in which their brands operate. We use the right approach and methodology to deliver robust insights, strategic counsel and targeted recommendations that generate change and positive outcomes.