By Will Richardson, Strategist at Craft Media London
“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field.”
If you follow current affairs in any form, be it from traditional news outlets or social media, it would be hard to escape the impression that we are hopelessly divided and that things are only going to get worse. However, research published by The Policy Institute at King’s College London and The World Values Survey has found that UK attitudes to immigration are some of the most positive around the world.
In a survey of 17 different countries, the UK came out as having one of the most positive dispositions towards immigration. British people are more likely than any other country surveyed to agree that we should allow people to come here for work, as shown in the chart below.
Correspondingly, the UK is also one of the lowest ranked countries for negative views towards immigration. The number of people agreeing with the statement “when jobs are scarce, employers should give priority to people of this country over immigrants” has more than halved since 2009 (65% to 29%), a momentous shift.
Putting the temptation of the political implications of this research to one side, there are also some useful reminders for the planning and strategy community.
1: People are quite nice really
In his book Humankind: A Hopeful History, historian Rutger Bregman argues that human nature has tended to be portrayed in an excessively negative light. He questions the dominant Veneer Theory offered up by many philosophers and popularised by (entirely fictional) works like Lord of the Flies, which describe people as inherently violent savages held in check by the constraints of ‘civilised society.’ It’s all too easy to see the worst in others, when in fact the evidence often paints a much more encouraging picture.
2: The loudest voice does not represent society
Current affairs outlets give disproportionate coverage to those with the most outspoken and extreme views, as these views are more likely to drive engagement and earned media reach. Meanwhile, content that is less likely to garner engagement, such as slow moving stories of positive change, hardly get a look in. This gives people the impression that fringe viewpoints are more prevalent than is actually the case, and downplays more representative but less sensational views.
3: Challenge your preconceptions
As policy researcher Bobby Duffy explains in his book ‘The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything,’ we humans are pretty rubbish at accurately analysing the wider world around us. We are after all animals and not computers, and we have evolved to deal with our immediate environment, rather than have a good intuitive grasp of crime statistics or teenage pregnancy rates. Our handle on the world is skewed by these cognitive biases as well as our media consumption habits, so much so that “we are useless at spotting slow, positive changes.” We should therefore always seek to validate our preconceptions, particularly when dealing with large, slow moving issues.
There is a staggering amount of information at our fingertips these days, so finding information to check our instincts against has never been easier. Failing that, one of the team at Craft is always more than happy to help dig out the information that you need.