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Brexit tops the news agenda – but it doesn’t mean people are interested

It seems that there is no way to avoid Britain leaving the European Union, at least when it comes to the news. Brexit has become the most noticed news story of the year, with much of the country attuned to the action week by week.

Populus polls 2,000 British adults each week to find out which news story, political or otherwise, the public have paid most attention to.

Last week, in a record high for the year, when 72 per cent said that Brexit was their most noticed story. That doesn’t mean, though, that people are enthused by or even interested in the subject. Respondents complain that “bloody boring Brexit” is all you hear about, with “everyone disagreeing with each other all the time and nothing ever getting sorted”.

There appears to be limited sympathy for Theresa May and little sense that a resolution is in sight; the dominant sentiment among respondents is that the negotiation process has turned into a mess, fiasco, shambles, or chaos. 

Top noticed news stories in November

Important details sometimes get missed, too. The news cycle is so fast that Stephen Barclay’s unforeseen appointment as Brexit secretary on a Friday evening in the middle of the month was buried by all the other Brexit-related news. Only one respondent referred to “the new Brexit secretary” (but not by name) when our poll came round, with everyone else focusing instead on leadership threats to the prime minister and yet more “crunch talks” in Brussels.

For those who follow political news it might seem impossible that a story other than Brexit could be front of mind throughout the latter half of last month. The government’s negotiations with the EU and the resignations of high-profile cabinet members have meant wall-to-wall coverage for three weeks.

However, three in ten people were focused elsewhere, and it is consistently the same groups of people who were less interested. Younger people are far less likely to pay attention to Brexit than older people, women less likely than men, and the least affluent less likely than those who are better off. Despite constant coverage, about four in ten people aged 18 to 34 did not mention Brexit as their top story last week.

About half of those could not recall a news story at all, while others focused on a disparate array of other stories including local crime, sporting events, Black Friday adverts, and I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here.

Even when it dominates front pages, live streams, and breaking news alerts for weeks on end, it is easy to forget that there are millions of people across the country who have no interest in politics whatsoever.

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

Originally published by The Times Red Box on 4th December 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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