Thursday 30 December 2010

Support for Students Falling? Probably Not

Guido today leads with the news that Britons are "saddened, ashamed and disgusted" by the demonstration that took place on December 12th.

In a series of questions, polling firm Angus Reid asked the 2,000 or so respondents what they
felt about the demonstration, with significant numbers selecting shame, sadness, disgust and anger. They were also asked whether "all things being considered" if kettling was justified (53% yes, 37% no) and whether the use of water cannon at future demonstrations would be justified (55% yes, 36% no).

It's interesting Angus Reid asked what respondents
felt rather than what they thought about the demonstration. They are asking people what could be complicated and conflicted feelings to a single word (or, in this case, four single words). Were people angry at the demonstrators, the troublesome minority, the police, the subsequent tête-à-tête with the royal personage, or the wall-to-wall coverage? Did people feel disgust at the actions of demonstrators or the police? What was the consistency between anger, shame, etc? I guess the subsequent questions on kettling and water cannon makes things slightly less fuzzy, but as a scientific exercise in providing a sociological snapshot it wouldn't, let's say, get past the peer review stage. Had Angus Reid been interested in accurately reflecting what people thought above results that lend themselves to glib headlines, perhaps they could have asked respondents what they felt about the actions of the students and police. Or who they blame: students, a "troublesome" minority, and the police. What they thought/felt about the media coverage too. And whether these events have affected their opinions on the issue. Had Angus Reid done that, I bet a more complex picture would emerge.

Nevertheless, I can imagine wannabe careerists ensconced in various student unions looking at these figures and thinking the game is up. Indeed, Guido comes to that conclusion: "... the student demonstrations are doing the students no favours, every demo costs them support." Is that really the case?

While it's self-evidently obvious violence doesn't play well, I think the public are more sophisticated than Guido implies. I'm certain they can separate a bit of argy-bargy on the streets out from the wider injustice of tuition fees. You don't have to take my word for it either, here's a couple of poll results. According to YouGov, way before the protest movement kicked off, a
14th October poll found 37% supported the rise in tuition fees while 45% were against. There were 18% who didn't know. Go forward to 6th December - after the violent turn taken by protests - and we find the figures are 38% for and 49% against. For what it's worth, an Ipsos MORI poll dated 13th December (but undertaken prior to the demonstration that took place the day before) only 28% of respondents supported the government's plans, while 64% were opposed. Make of that what you will.

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