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The public versus parliamentarians: What do they think of regulation?

In the first and second part of our series on regulation we explored MPs’ views.

We have also asked the public across the UK about their confidence in various industries and how much regulation they feel is needed – using the same questions from our MP poll – and we focus on the public’s views in this third and final article.

The public have slightly less trust in most industries than MPs and favour more regulation than parliamentarians do. Whereas a majority of MPs think only one sector – gambling – needs more regulation, a majority of respondents from the public think each of energy markets, gambling, pensions, advertising and the charity sector should be more regulated.

The public are less trusting than MPs

Overall we found that respondents have positive levels of trust in half of the sectors in our survey. Opticians, food and drink companies, airlines, radio shows/stations and charities all have a positive trust rating and are trusted by more of the public than distrust them.

Pension providers have an average score of 5 – exactly neutral on our 0 to 10 scale

The least trusted industries are newspapers and magazines, gas and electricity markets, advertising agencies, and gambling firms.

Chart 1

We had asked this same question of MPs earlier in the year, offering a useful insight into how the public’s views differ from those of their elected representatives. On the whole, a similar hierarchy of trusted industries is present (opticians are trusted most and gambling least). The public trusts food and drink companies and gas and electricity providers slightly more than MPs do. In contrast, half of the industries have a lower trust score amongst the public including airlines, charities, pension providers, advertising, and gambling.

Do industries need more or less regulation?

There is little appetite amongst MPs and the public to loosen regulation, although that is as far as the consensus goes.

On the whole, the public is more favourable to introducing more regulation than MPs are. A majority of the public think that more regulation is needed for half of the sectors tested – gas and electricity markets (68%), gambling (67%), pensions (56%), advertising (54%) and charities (54%).

Amongst parliamentarians, on the other hand, gambling is the only sector for which a majority favours more regulation. For all other industries, most MPs think that current levels are about right.

For every single industry in our survey, there is a much higher proportion of the public who think that more regulation is needed than those who say less. The comparison with MPs’ net scores below highlights the extent of the discrepancy in opinion. Except for food and drink companies where the views of MPs and the public are closely aligned, the difference in net scores (of percentage saying ‘needs more regulation’ minus percentage saying ‘needs less regulation’) between the public and MPs is greater than 10%.

Chart 2

Chart 3

Chart 4

Opposition MPs’ views closer to the public’s on gambling and energy regulation

We discussed in previous articles that there are significant differences between Conservative and Opposition MPs in their views on the level of regulation thought to be required for food and drink, newspapers and magazines, gas and electricity, and gambling.

The biggest mismatches between the views of the public and of Conservative MPs are for the gambling and energy sector. When it comes to regulating these two industries, Opposition MPs’ views are much more in line with the public’s opinions.

Whereas 46% of Conservative MPs think gambling needs to be more regulated, more than two thirds of the public (67%) and Opposition MPs (71%) think so. For energy markets, the divide is even wider. Only one in three Conservative MPs (30%) favour more regulation, whereas 68% of the public and 67% of Opposition MPs do so.

Chart 5

The generational divide

There is a generational divide in opinion as the young and old are split on their views towards five industries. Older people tend to want more regulation than young people in advertising (18-34: 47%; 65+: 60%), charities (18-34: 39%; 65+: 64%); gambling (18-34: 58%; 65+: 77%); gas and electricity (18-34: 57%; 65+: 73%) and pensions (18-34: 43%; 65+: 56%).

The exception is newspapers and magazines, where the trend is reversed (18-34: 49%; 65+: 38%).

This is the third and final part in a three-part series about regulation. The first part discussed MPs’ confidence in markets and regulation. The second part explored MPs’ views on industry watchmen; the effectiveness, funding and remit of regulators.

You may also be interested in our recent work for the Charity Commission, the regulator for the charity sector, which reveals falling public trust and confidence in charity sector.


    • Populus surveyd 2,096 people between 15-16 June by online questionnaire. Data has been weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+.

    • Populus surveyed 122 MPs on the Populus MP Panel in March and April 2016 by self-completion online and postal questionnaire.

    • MP Data is weighted by political party to be representative of the House of Commons.

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