Public feel politicians invent or exaggerate culture wars as a tactic, poll suggests

More than half of people feel politicians are using so-called culture wars to distract from other issues, according to a survey which also found the term “woke” is increasingly seen as an insult.

Almost two thirds (62%) of those polled said politicians “invent or exaggerate” culture wars as a political tactic – up from less than half (44%) three years ago.

Just one in 10 people felt politicians who talk about divisions over cultural issues genuinely believe it is an important topic, with 56% feeling they are just trying to distract people from other important topics.

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The research, by King’s College London (KCL) and Ipsos UK, found that – ahead of a general election – the top issues people said would determine their vote include cost of living/inflation and the NHS and social care.

Third was the issue of Channel crossings.

But transgender rights and free speech were at the bottom of the list, with just 1% of people saying these issues would determine their vote.

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The research also found a growing sense that culture wars are a serious problem for society and politics, with a majority (52%) now holding this view, up from 43% in 2020.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the policy institute at KCL, said: “The speed and scale of the UK’s adoption of ‘culture war’ issues and rhetoric in our media and politics has been one of the key trends of the last few years, and it has gone hand-in-hand with big shifts in public awareness and opinion.

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“But opinion is also swinging against the use of these identity divisions, with one of the biggest shifts being the increase in the public’s perception that politicians are inventing or exaggerating culture wars as a political tactic.

“The evidence suggests it may not be a particularly successful approach to an election, as tiny minorities pick out culture war-related issues as important to how they’ll vote.”

When it comes to terminology, there is greater awareness now of a number of terms including woke, cancel culture and culture wars since 2020, although around 40% did not know what either the terms woke or anti-woke meant.

The term woke – defined as being very aware of social problems such as racism and inequality – is now seen by a greater number of people as an insult, the survey suggested.

Some 42% of the public said they would consider it insulting to be described as woke, up from 24% in 2020, with just over a quarter branding it a compliment.

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Men were twice as likely as women to say they are anti-woke, while around four in 10 Conservative-Leave voters considered themselves to be so, as did three in 10 men aged 60 and above.

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos UK, said: “While negative associations of ‘woke’ are rising, most people do not consider themselves to be either ‘woke’ or ‘anti-woke’.”

Ipsos UK interviewed a representative sample of 3,716 people aged 16 and above online across the UK in August.