Measuring identity through people’s values

The Fear and Hope report produced by the Searchlight Educational Trust got a lot of media coverage yesterday, especially over the hardening of extremist attitudes through the rise in what it terms as ‘identity politics‘.

The report confirms the point made in this blog in May, that achieving community cohesion is still a very significant issue. as well as endorsing other points made in this blog recently. For example, the following quote from the report covers the issue of social class:

“Drivers of political behaviour are the subject of intense academic debate. It is clear that social class has lost much of its importance in determining voting behaviour. This is not the same thing as saying class is irrelevant. The alternative view which states ‘valence’ issues as the major explanation of voting has its own limitations. ‘Valence’ includes image and party reputation. It is a retail form of politics but in itself is unsatisfactory.

“For the purposes of understanding what forms attitudes several assumptions have been made.

“Firstly, class is weakening as an explanatory factor for peoples’ values, attitudes and voting behaviour. Secondly, while ‘valence’ factors are significant in terms of voting, they have less of an impact when it comes to cultural dispositions and social attitudes. Therefore, attitudes in relation to culture, identity and nation are formed on the basis of a complex interplay of:

  • class
  • personal experience
  • life circumstance
  • media

“The central contention is that a politics of identity – where people congregate around the clusters or segments outlined above – has risen alongside a traditional left-right, class-based political axis.

“Without understanding these clusters of attitudes towards issues of identity, an understanding of British politics is not possible. As class weakens as a means of understanding social attitudes and political change, and the old left-right dynamic of British politics weakens with it, there is a search for dynamics driving political change. The ‘tribes’ outlined here are intended as a contribution to that discussion.”

It is good to see the point made again as to whether measuring attitudes and opinion simply by traditional socio-economic classifications is enough nowadays,  which was an issue covered on this blog recently.

In making its case, the Report then uses detailed polling data to segment the community into what it describes as 6 identity tribes:

  • Confident Multiculturalists (eight per cent of the population)
  • Mainstream Liberals (16%)
  • Identity Ambivalents (28%)
  • Cultural Integrationists (24%)
  • Latent Hostiles (10%)
  • Active Enmity (13%)

These groups are set out in much more detail in the Report here.

Having explained the descriptions, the Report then tries to group them in terms of how they express their values over multiculturalism, looking at them in terms of three broader political outlooks towards the issue. It says:

“We can see that, broadly speaking, the new politics of identity splits as follows:

  • Liberal 24%
  • Mainstream 52%
  • Hostile 23%

“These divides constitute a new political understanding through which personal, community, economic, ethic, national identity, and global issues and attitudes can be understood. A person’s location on this spectrum is no longer accurately described by their socio-economic class alone. For example, voters of the DE social group split 5%-14%-30%-19%-10%-21%”

These are generally useful points. However it is also important to note that people’s values are very deep-seated and derived from all their needs and for thus whilst attitudes to immigration may be a strong part of some people’s world view, they are unlikely to be a strong factor for others.

The Report uses these identity segments it has identified to examine a number of key domestic policy issues. A full set of those survey questions asked as part of the research for the report is here. From that polling, the Report indicates there are a number of recurring themes. These are similar to many of the themes TCC identified in its community cohesion research with more than 40 local authorities over the last four years. The Report says:

“By applying the attitudes of these ‘tribes’ to a series of questions focusing on standard of living, race, immigration, nation, identity, community, values, and religion, a number of themes emerge. The following are particularly noteworthy:

  • Optimism v pessimism; security v insecurity.
  • Economic change and identity.
  • Englishness, Britishness and identity.
  • Changing minority attitudes.
  • Social capital v social dislocation.
  • Working class fragmentation and dislocation.
  • Negative attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.
  • The refraction of individual issues through the prism of identity politics.
  • A potential political vacuum on the right.

“This analysis is a challenge to central and local Government, political parties, the media, campaign groups and community organisations. A different political dynamic calls for a different approach to policy, communication, organisation, and prioritisation. This report concludes with a series of practical recommendations for a response to the new politics of culture, identity and nation.

“The core message, however, is that this changing political dynamic cannot be ignored. As happened with the controversy over immigration, this new dynamic is real and it is not going away. The question is rather: which response will gain the most traction. If it is to be the political mainstream and not the political extremes then a swift set of responses is required. The choice is between a politics of unity or a politics of division. It is between hope and hate.”

The report is absolutely right to identify a “changing political dynamic” that is “real and not going away”. The research that has been conducted here is a step in the right direction, showing that one needs to delve deeper than socio-economic classifications that were first developed in the UK for research purposes as long ago as 1921. However there is also a danger that these identity segments will come across as somewhat one-dimensional as it responds to just one policy challenge, rather than testing that segmentation against a wider range of policy issues.

We thus need segmentation that is not only dynamic, but is also built on a long-term database, tested across a large range of personal values and public policy areas, so we can track the small changes that lead to the bigger shifts in attitudes. This is why TCC utilises segmentation on the basis of the values which we believe lay underneath identity and which are driven by fundamental personal needs and the level of motivation and self-efficacy in achieving them. They are collected as part of the British Values survey which has been collected over the last 38 years.

When those values are clustered in identifiable geo-demographic groups and are studied specifically on this one issue they may well become the sort of identities shown in this report that are then reinforced by local social norms and social proof. However those identities may not automatically translate into similar groups for other areas of policy – such as attitudes towards the Big Society, action on Climate Change or outlooks towards the public spending reductions – addressing as they do, just the issue of multiculturalism.

In order for segmentation to be robust and effective in tackling a range of issues within any targeted community it needs to be able to address a much wider range of overlapping public policy challenges.

There was perhaps a similar sense of one-dimensional outlook when it came to the recent World Wildlife Fund Common Cause report which addresses both values and identity in the context of the challenge of climate change, and which has been previously covered in some detail in this blog.

The big question for the authors of both these two reports to consider, is could their different approaches be translated for use in the other policy area?

With values based segmentation and its tried and trusted data collected over a long period as well as being part of a wider surveys collected as part of the World Values Survey; TCC uses a system, that is not just operable for one challenge, but which also applies across the public policy sphere.

Nevertheless, despite the caveat on dimensionality, the Fear and Hope and Common Cause reports are useful evidence that as well as understanding socio-economic class we do need to understand public behaviour and attitudes more deeply, by gaining insight into values too.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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One Response to “Measuring identity through people’s values”

  1. Community Cohesion is still a key issue « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] The Campaign Company’s Blog TCC believes that long term success for any organisation is founded on the mutual trust established with its stakeholders, its consumers and the wider community. We believe that this mutual trust can only be achieved if an organisation actively engages in authentic and continuous dialogue with those whose lives it touches. « Measuring identity through people’s values […]

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