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Back to School: Compelling polling in a year of uncertainty

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It’s clear the next year will be incredibly busy, with many uncertainties, from upcoming elections to the looming question of whether the world is on track to meet climate goals. To better understand the issues that are highest in people’s minds as they think about the next election and who to vote for, FGS Global has conducted some new polling. As we look ahead, we wanted to get under the skin of this, to see how people see the responsibilities of business, the state of the country and feelings about the parties. The key findings were:

1. Voters are very pessimistic about the UK’s position and trajectory, and the vast majority don’t think any political party has the answers.

2. While the environment may not take centre stage on UK ballots, businesses are under more pressure than ever to deliver on climate targets.

3. Taking a stance on cultural issues, however, proves more divisive, and businesses need to approach speaking out cautiously.

Voters are very pessimistic about the UK’s position and trajectory, and the vast majority don’t think any political party has the answers

There is a palpable mood of pessimism in the UK, whereby four in five feel the UK is going through a period of decline,[1] and near equal proportions feel none of the political parties know how to tackle the big challenges facing the UK.[2]

Despite Labour’s consistent lead of around 20% in voting intention polls, it is far from settled that Keir Starmer will be the next prime minister. Indeed, antipathy for the Conservatives is significantly stronger than enthusiasm for Labour, and few feel clear that they know what the party’s main policies are.[3]

Amongst Conservative MPs, this has engendered an atmosphere of individualism, in contrast to Labour’s disciplined, albeit cautious, approach. While Brexit has dominated previous campaigns, this election is one focused on living standards as the cost of living crisis continues to be top of mind in all pockets of the UK, and both parties will need to cut through to voters with a clear strategy to lead the public out of the weeds.

While the environment may not take centre stage on UK ballots, businesses are under more pressure than ever to deliver on climate targets

With politicians focused on delivering immediate priorities like energy bill relief and Labour wary of policy that will lose voters – given the impact of ULEZ at the Uxbridge by-elections – addressing the climate crisis is taking a back seat this election, and the onus is sitting with businesses to take the lead. As COP28 approaches, over two thirds of the public think that businesses have a clear environmental responsibility,[4] and there is pressure for them to deliver on targets that transcend party politics. Still, there is clear evidence that we are making progress: global clean energy investment has doubled over the last three years,[5] and investment in solar is overtaking oil and gas for the first time.[6] With increasing ambition and complexity, however, there is a risk of paralysis, and businesses will need to ensure they adopt a forward-thinking strategy to accelerate their pace.

Taking a stance on cultural issues, however, proves more divisive, and businesses need to approach speaking out cautiously

This summer saw a number of companies facing defining cultural moments in the public arena, including the BBC, CBI, ITV and NatWest, raising the question of the reach of company culture, responsibility and future strategy. The public remains divided, with near equal proportions thinking businesses do and do not have a responsibility to speak out on cultural issues, such as gender identify, LGBTQ pride and Black Lives Matter.[7] Notably, this splits generations, with younger audiences supporting speaking out on these issues and older groups thinking they shouldn’t.[8]

To navigate this volatility, businesses will need to act prudently, ensure their purpose is credible and demonstrate an understanding of their role in society, whilst being careful not to kick the hornet’s nest.

FGS Global’s Strategy and Reputation practice understands the complexity of the modern world, and has the insights, strategies and tactics to help business deliver.

[1] 78% of respondents agree with ‘It feels like the UK is going through a period of decline’. Source: FGS Global polling (1st – 3rd September 2023). Base: General public (2,094).
[2] 72% of respondents agree with ‘None of the political parties seem to know how to tackle the big challenges facing the UK’.
[3] 61% agree with ‘It is time for a change from a Conservative government’, and 43% agree with ‘It is time for a change to a Labour government’.
[4] 66% of respondents agree with ‘Businesses have a responsibility to set out clear plans to help combat climate change and meet the UK’s net zero target’.
[5] Source: Renewable Energy Investment Hits Record-Breaking $358 Billion in 1H 2023 | BloombergNEF (bnef.com)
[6] Source: Overview and key findings – World Energy Investment 2023 – Analysis - IEA
[7] 36% of respondents agree with ‘Businesses have a responsibility to speak out on cultural issues such as gender identity, LGBTQ pride and Black Lives Matter’.
[8] NET Agreement with above statement is +22% for those aged 18-44 and -5% for those aged 45+.