Who’s really in charge: the people, the politicians or the media? (British Social Attitudes Survey Part IV)

What I find interesting is whether politics and the media follow or form public opinion. Certainly some results from the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) seem to conflict with the predominant political view of the time – secondary schools are doing a decent job, for example. Other long-held views seem to be completely detached from the mainstream political and media narrative – most notably that income inequality is too great, which has been the opinion of roughly 80% of us since 1987 despite rarely being discussed and no great attempts being made to fix it.

The decreasing support for increasing welfare could be seen as a response to Tory rhetoric and media horror stories. However, the proportion of people who agree government should spend more on benefits has been in steep decline since 1991. My view is that most people’s opinions are shaped more by personal experience and word of mouth than media stories and political spin. Of course, people will then choose to believe or deny what they read in the papers or see on TV depending on how well it fits their expectations. But, ultimately a kernel of a belief needs to be in place first (I suspect, for millions across Britain a friend of a friend knows someone who, it’s rumoured, has a new plasma TV, three kids, has never worked a day in their life AND is going on holiday TWICE this year).

It’s strangely reassuring to see that politicians and the media are merely grossly distorted reflections of public opinion rather than creators of it.