Global tragedies overshadow Brexit

Brexit continued to attract an incredibly high level of public attention this month, but in the past fortnight was overshadowed by tragedies overseas.

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

The abhorrent Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, in which at least 250 people died, shocked the British public as so many others around the world, with almost half (47 per cent) recalling it as the story they had followed most closely.

Likewise, the fire that destroyed part of Notre Dame cathedral — which fortuitously resulted in not a single casualty — was the most noticed story the week before (for 59 per cent of the public).














That Brexit managed to attract an even higher share of attention in the preceding weeks demonstrates the extent to which it has taken hold of national discourse. Parliament’s attempt to resolve the impasse with a series of indicative votes was the most memorable story for an overwhelmingly majority (84 per cent) in early April, and in any other time that figure would register as the highest of the year. But Brexit has already surpassed it twice in the past few months.

The extension of the deadline to October 31 helped Brexit capture the attention of a significant majority (74 per cent) again the subsequent week, with respondents complaining that it had become “the longest-running news story of all time” and that “politics is now a one-trick pony”.

All of this has coincided with a decline in support for the Conservatives in voting intention polls, which has since been exacerbated by the emergence of the Brexit Party. The full launch of the Farage-led group came a few days before the Notre Dame fire, and so resulted in only a handful of respondents — mostly older men — identifying it as their most noticed news event.

Besides Brexit, the Notre Dame fire and the Sri Lanka attacks, the only other stories to break the 5 per cent threshold in April were Debenhams falling into administration (6 per cent) and the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion (7 per cent), which Londoners were around twice as likely to mention as the population overall. Compared with all this, the government’s proposed ban on no-fault evictions went under the radar (on less than 1 per cent).

With the House of Commons now back from recess to debate Brexit once more, and post-referendum European parliament elections approaching, the never-ending story is about to offer up yet another chapter.

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 Consultant 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.