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The Political Stories that the Public Really Notice

Inhabitants of the Westminster bubble often fret about the impact the latest political crises and manoeuvres have had on voters. But where is the attention of people in the real world focused?

Every week, Populus conducts a poll to find out which news story the public have paid most attention to during the course of that week. Here we share with Red Box the results for 2018 so far.

Political news largely passed the public by in January. While the papers were preoccupied with what George Osborne called “the worst reshuffle in modern history”, only one in five members of the public said that they had paid most attention to the changes in Theresa May’s cabinet.

Brexit’s dry January came to an end when it claimed the top spot at the end of the month, as Michel Barnier and David Davis went head-to-head once more to negotiate the transition period. But again, only one in five members of the public said this was their top story of the week, and this was the second and last occasion on which a strictly political news story topped the weekly table.

The heavy snowfall in March was a much more unifying affair. As several parts of the country faced travel chaos, half of the public said this was their most noticed story.

But the one that really caught the public’s eye came the following week. At its peak, almost seven in ten had paid most attention to the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal and its aftermath. To put this in context, only two stories throughout the whole of 2017 attracted a greater share of attention: the Manchester Arena bombing and the attack in Westminster. The attack on the Skripals has remained at the centre of the public’s consciousness for five consecutive weeks.

And the alleged antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party? With the public captivated by the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter, only 1 in 25 respondents said they had paid most attention to the row enveloping Labour. For now at least, party politics has again taken the back seat.

Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of at least 2,000 British adults aged 18 and over each week, and asked what news story they had noticed the most. The question was open-ended and participants could name any story.


Will Clothier

Will is a Senior Research Executive at Populus where he has delivered stakeholder research projects for household names across a range of sectors including sport, telecoms, culture, food, and leisure – advising clients on the views of politicians, journalists, and industry leaders. Recent stakeholder clients include the Premier League and BT.

He researches public opinion quantitatively and qualitatively for political organisations, government departments, and businesses. Recently he has analysed public attitudes towards ‘populist’ economic policies post-Brexit, and the political attitudes of voters in different parts of the country. He works within Populus’s Reputation and Strategy division, having joined the company as a Research Executive. He graduated from Durham University with a first class degree in English Literature and holds the Market Research Society Advanced Certificate with a double merit.

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