Overall, this ESRC-funded project will create a new longitudinal resource of individual-level data on social, economic and political attitudes between the 1950s and 1990s. One major output will be a merged dataset consisting of hundreds of thousands of respondents to survey items included in the regular Gallup political omnibus survey fielded at regular monthly intervals over this period. The series includes voting intention, government approval, prime ministerial and party leader approval, the ‘most important problem’ facing the nation and other recurring survey items. It will be possible through this merged data to understand how attitudes of different parts of the British electorate – for example relating to social class, partisanship, age or gender – have varied over time as well as in response to major events or policy shifts. The availability of geodata on respondents (regarding the region or parliamentary constituency) will enable the exploration of the geography of public opinion over time.
In addition to these broad objectives, the project investigators and Research Fellows are undertaking research relating to a number of substantive aspects of British public opinion over the period since 1945 (combining the Gallup data with other more recent sources of poll data such as British Election Study and British Social Attitudes survey data). These work streams are as follows:
1. Environmental attitudes (lead: John Kenny)
This work stream of the project will track public attitudes towards the environment over time, identifying early surveys conducted relating to pollution and environmental problems and using these to understand how the structure of public opinion has changed – such as by social group or by partisan attachment. Through understanding the early formation of public opinion on the environment, light will be shed on contemporary environmental attitudes.
2. Welfare state and public spending attitudes (lead: Andra Roescu)
This work stream will investigate public attitudes towards the welfare state and public spending over the post-war period. It will consider differences in opinion towards unemployment, benefits, health and other social domains. As well as investigating the individual-level determinants of attitudes on social issues (similarly by social group or partisan preferences), this stream will consider how these attitudes change over time and how public policy responds to them.
3. Public issue priorities (lead: Nick Or)
This work stream will use Gallup’s well-known question regarding the “most important problem” (MIP) facing the country to investigate the issue priorities of the public. It will consider the individual-level determinants of the issues identified as important, and how these are stable or change over time. It further will explore how the issue agenda of distinct sub-publics (i.e. social or political groups) varies over time, and how this impacts on the policy agenda of government.
4. Criminal justice (leads: Will Jennings and Peter Enns)
This work stream will explore the social and political determinants of attitudes towards crime and criminal justice, and how these have changed over time. Specifically, it will consider which individuals hold more punitive or liberal opinions on criminal justice and whether the social structure of public opinion – on the liberal-authoritarian dimension – has remained stable over the post-war period. The stream will consider which social or partisan groups tend to be more responsive to changes in rates of victimisation/crime.
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