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Labour’s antisemitism row hasn’t broken through with the public

Several political stories broke through with the public last month. The Labour antisemitism row isn’t one of them.

Every week Populus conducts a poll to find out which news story, political or otherwise, the public have paid most attention to during the course of that week.

Last month I wrote for Red Box that Brexit had gained traction following the Chequers meeting, and in August it is again at the forefront of voters’ minds. Speculation about a no deal and its ramifications made Brexit the most noticed news story of the week twice this month, and the second most noticed twice in addition.

Until now, the public had been relatively disengaged with the negotiation process. As Brexit starts to feel more real to voters on both sides, that is likely to change.

Brexit was outdone though in the second week of the month by one of its architects: the former foreign secretary. Boris Johnson is a man who knows how to get public attention, and his comments about the burka made him the most memorable story of the week for 27 per cent of people.

He might have known that his choice of language would attract this much attention, and he might have known too that polls show majority support among Conservative voters for banning the burka.

A man even more familiar with corralling media attention, at least on the other side of the Atlantic, is President Trump.

For Britons though, stories about the current president only really cut through when they involve controversial international summits or major scandals. In August, it was the latter, with Trump’s former campaign manager and his personal lawyer both implicated in financial crimes, making the president the British public’s top story of the week for only the second time this year on 20 per cent.

But there was one major political story that barely broke through in August. Despite a press dominated by headlines of wreath-laying in Tunis, a controversial Holocaust memorial event, a legal clash with the Jewish MP Margaret Hodge, and an unprecedented condemnation by several Jewish newspapers, the antisemitism row enveloping the Labour Party is not top of mind for the wider public.

No more than 5 per cent mentioned the story at any point in the past month. In fact, it has never been mentioned by more than 5 per cent since hitting the headlines months ago.

It is possible that in the long run the persistence of the charges, and Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived inability in many quarters to satisfactorily address them, could erode the electorate’s confidence in him. But right now this simply is not a big story for most people.

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.

Originally published by Times Red Box on 3 September 2018.

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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