A Question of Policy: Rwanda

 

 

 

 

30th May 2024

During any election campaign the policies announced by the parties receive a great deal of attention, but how support for individual policies is measured can have a big impact on the findings. And does a popular policy necessarily mean a more popular party?

One of the biggest policy announcements in recent years has been the government’s plans to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda. Public support for this policy is something that has been investigated in a number of different ways.

At Deltapoll we first tested support for this policy back in January 2023. Back then we found that nearly half of British adults supported the principle, while just under a third opposed it.

The UK Government is moving forward with plans to have some people who have entered Britain and applied for asylum to be flown to Rwanda, in Africa, for their asylum applications to be processed. Do you support or oppose this policy?          

Support             47%
Oppose              32%
Don’t know        21%

This ‘a half support / a third oppose’ finding is often what you find with any policy that attempts to deal with illegal immigration, and as time has gone on the numbers have remained relatively static.

Since that first poll was conducted there have been many new developments and lots more information about the plans have emerged. Despite this, the overall story of public opinion has remained largely unchanged. Our most recent results from last week show a slight fall in support and an increase in those respondents who say they do not know, but all the changes are within the margin of error and so not statistically significant.

The UK Government is moving forward with plans to have some people who have entered Britain and applied for asylum to be flown to Rwanda, in Africa, for their asylum applications to be processed. Do you support or oppose this policy?          

Support             45%
Oppose              32%
Don’t know        23%

But what if you choose a slightly different question to ask? How does that change the story?

To investigate, at Deltapoll we ran an experiment where survey respondents were asked one of four different, randomly allocated question wordings. The wording included our standard question, one with a lot more specific detail, one with less and a final variation of our own question that added an explanation that those sent to Rwanda will stay there.

Wording A: The UK Government is moving forward with plans to have some people who have entered Britain and applied for asylum to be flown to Rwanda, in Africa, for their asylum applications to be processed. Do you support or oppose this policy?

Wording B: The UK’s Illegal Migration Act is now law. The Act would see those who enter the UK via unauthorised routes removed to their home country, or a ‘safe’ third country, such as Rwanda. Do you support or oppose this policy?

Wording C: From what you have read or heard, do you support or oppose the government’s plan to send some migrants to Rwanda?

Wording D: The UK Government is moving forward with plans to have some people who have entered Britain and applied for asylum to be flown to Rwanda, in Africa, where they will stay. Do you support or oppose this policy?

Each specific wording had more than 850 respondents and in all four cases the overall story remained the same: namely that more people support the Rwanda policy than oppose it.

The degree of support and opposition does, however, vary significantly depending on the wording. Over half of respondents (54% v 28%) supported the policy when given the specific information provided in Wording B. This compares to significantly fewer (40% v 36%) who supported the policy when left to rely on their own existing understanding in Wording C.

Coming in between the two is Deltapoll’s standard wording (45% v 32%), though it is worth noting that the inclusion of the detail that those who are sent to Rwanda will stay there increases support – albeit only slightly.

None of this should come as a surprise to those familiar with quantitative research, but it is worth remembering the influence that question wording can have on results – particularly in a time when support or opposition for a range of different policies will generate such interest and attention. The decisions pollsters and other make when designing questions has an impact.

Which wording is the correct one? What is the true level of support? Well, all the questions were asked in the artificial construct of a survey instrument and, in a sense, they are all ‘correct’. But they measure slightly different things and, as a consequence, produce slightly different results. If you were a supporter of the Rwanda policy you would, no doubt, favour Wording B. On the other hand, an opponent might favour Wording C.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that just because a party has some popular policies on important issues, it does not mean that it will, by definition, be successful in the polls.

A voter may support a policy, for example, but not think that the issue it addresses is important in the grander scheme of things. Even if the policy is seen to address an important issue, they may think that the policy is a good one, but the party proposing it is not going to be able to deliver. Other factors such as leadership, track record and many other broader narratives all exert a strong influence on the views of the electorate. It is a very complicated business.

I always think that the best way to think about both individual policies and party manifestos is like the dishes and the set menu at a restaurant.

You might like the sound of individual dishes, but you cannot pick and choose, you have to have the set menu. And even if you like the set menu, if the restaurant doesn’t look up to scratch or the head chef appears a bit questionable, you are probably going to eat elsewhere.

Deltapoll interviewed 3,485 adults in Great Britain online between 17th to 25th May 2024. The data have been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. Full results are available here.

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Joe TwymanAuthor: Joe Twyman