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Brexit is the most noticed news story for nine weeks in a row

The public may say they are bored of Brexit but they are also paying more attention to it now than ever.

Every week Populus polls 2,000 British adults to find out which news story, political or otherwise, the country has paid most attention to during that week. Here we share with Red Box the results for October:

This month Brexit became the most noticed news story for a record nine consecutive weeks — the longest period of sustained attention since the referendum.

The cliché that a week in politics is a long time seems particularly apt. Conflicting messages about the state of negotiations with the EU have resulted in near constant news coverage and a public that apparently feels frustrated and fatigued with the process.

At the beginning of the month the quarter of respondents who said that Brexit was the story they had paid most attention to referred to “Tory infighting” and “the various unacceptable deals put forward by idiots” (in respondents’ own words).

The Conservative Party conference was also top of mind for a slightly higher share of the public (about one in five) than in recent years — another a sign of Brexit’s gravitational pull, or perhaps the attention paid to the prime minister’s dancing.

In the second week of October “the ongoing Brexit saga” was again the most noticed story for a quarter of the population, with the unresolved Irish border obstacle looming large despite negotiators on both sides suggesting optimism.

One typical response in our open-ended poll summed up a common feeling of uncertainty: “Brexit. What the hell is going on?”

By the third week of the month Brexit reached a new peak, with 46 per cent saying it was their most noticed story after reports that the transition phase could be extended for another year. The comments from our respondents bear out what other polling has shown in recent weeks: that confidence in the government reaching a good deal — or perhaps any deal — appears to be low.

Finally, despite arguably no progress in the last week of October, Brexit topped the poll again, gaining more attention than the disappearance of the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Under normal circumstances a shocking and mysterious human-interest story with international significance and widespread coverage would be the most remembered story of the week. This is a clear sign that the public’s main focus is on Westminster and Brussels, even when not much is happening. To borrow a phrase from the Red Box editor, Matt Chorley: this is not normal.

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 the 29th October 2018. 

Populus is a full service research and strategy consultancy unlocks the Critical Knowledge that brands need to better understand the world around us. We add value to our findings by applying expert analysis to uncover clear, actionable insight. Find out more by calling 020 7253 9900 or emailing info@populus.co.uk. 


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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