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The End of Liberalism?

Posted on 25 April 2017 by Matt Jonas, Campaigns and Marketing Manager
Tags: British Social Attitudes, immigration, politics, social and political attitudes

Brexit, Trump, Le Pen…. Are we witnessing a significant turning point in British and Western society? Drawing on more than 30 years of trend data, the forthcoming British Social Attitudes report will assess whether we are truly experiencing a major shift towards conservative social values combined with a desire for greater government intervention.



Recent political events - from the Brexit vote to the election of Trump - suggest a popular reaction against globalisation. The world and its cultures are becoming more and more diverse. We are becoming more accepting of those from other countries, ethnic groups and walks of life. Yet, at the same time, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. Many have begun to question the changes to our communities and economies brought about by the freer flow of goods, money and, especially, people.

Public concern about the consequences of immigration is a case in point. Moments like the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump with his pledged border fence, and the high levels of support for populist parties in France and Germany point towards a move away from social and even economic liberalism. Voters seem to be turning to the state to manage or control the social and economic change caused by globalisation; changes they feel challenge their sense of identity and security.

But should we expect a long-term shift in this direction in Britain and beyond? And does a retreat from liberal attitudes to issues like immigration and the economy play out in other areas of society? Or is this just a momentary detour in the relentless shift to ever more liberal attitudes?

Enter NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey. The study is the longest-running research on public attitudes in the UK. Running since 1983, the survey tracks the changes in public attitudes to topics including the economy, welfare, morality, politics, the NHS and the environment. Each year we interview thousands of people face-to-face, using the gold standard methodology. The study is the most authoritative barometer of public attitudes used in Westminster, academia, the media and beyond.  

Publishing at the end of June, the 34th annual British Social Attitudes report will examine whether we really are reaching the end of liberalism. Each chapter will assess a separate aspect of society, asking whether the public want a more culturally similar society, support traditional moral standards and back greater regulation of the economy. The report will look in detail at attitudes towards the EU, immigration, ethical and moral issues, civil liberties, welfare and public spending, trade unions, transport and the role of government.

For more information about the 34th Annual British Social Attitudes report, please email

Follow me on Twitter @matthewcjonas

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