We know a fair bit about people who say they plan to vote Ukip in May. Academics Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford have characterised them as the ‘left behinds’.
Globalisation may have grown the UK economy, but they feel scant personal benefit. Immigration may have pushed up GDP, but they see themselves squeezed out by newcomers. A perceived ‘Westminster elite’ exists which serve itself and its friends, but which certainly does nothing for them. It’s a long list of bugbears which includes a whole range of other institutions, from the BBC to the police. We can now add another category to this list.
A report published today by the charity think tank I head, New Philanthropy Capital – in conjunction with Ipsos MORI – shows that the majority of Ukip voters don’t trust charities either.
53 per cent of Ukippers distrust charities, streets ahead of the established parties.
Ukip supporters are 20 percentage points less trusting in charities than Conservatives, 25 less than Labour and 29 less than Liberal Democrats (although the Lib Dem sample is too small to be meaningful).
Dig in a bit deeper and you can find Ukip’s presence in attitudes towards charities in a slightly different way. Men, older voters, those without degrees and people with lower social status (groups C2DE) all trust charities slightly less than average. Looking again at research from Goodwin and Ford, this is the same demographic from which Ukip draws a lot of its support.
There are many areas where Ukip voters cluster together with supporters of other parties — like everyone else they seem to place greater trust in small, volunteer-led charities, for example, and would rather see charities getting their money from public donations and not government or business.
Like others, Ukip have greater trust in small, volunteer-led charities.
But all of this makes the figures on overall trust stand out even more starkly. What’s going on here? Why do Ukip voters appear to lump-in charities with all these other discredited institutions?
One interpretation is that potential and actual Ukip voters are more responsive to the sort of controversies which have blown up around charities in recent months, controversies which have often depicted the sector as part of the same establishment that Ukippers are rejecting.
The pay of top staff has been much debated and much criticised; the politicisation of charities has come under the spotlight; the transparency of some charitable activity has been questioned. Ukip voters may be responding to coverage which has made charities appear part of an elite, exclusionary group at the top of British society.
New Philanthropy Capital has long warned charities about the “halo effect”, and the risk that feeling good about charitable work can drift into complacency. Charities are still trusted more than most institutions—and these trust levels have changed little over time—but polls like ours are a reminder that this can be disrupted.
The perceptions of the outside world matter. What we see in this new polling may be a negative perception embedding itself with a chunk of voters who are already more sceptical and disillusioned than their peers. This doesn’t mean that charities shouldn’t try and change their minds (although the most entrenched sceptics are pretty unlikely ever to be brought round) but it does give a sense of the scale of the challenge.
That challenge may well be largest for charities involved in overseas development.
That challenge may well be largest for charities involved in overseas development. Around one in five supporters of the established parties said they would choose to donate to an international charity rather than to national or local causes, but almost no Ukip voters said the same.
If Ukip supporters represent an increasing strand of public opinion, then it is a strand that the charity sector cannot ignore. If those opinions challenge some of charities’ most strongly-held beliefs, then it’s all the more reason to find a new way to work effectively and to communicate this to the public.
There is a challenge, too, for officials and policy-makers. Ukip are currently the ascendant force in British politics, and may even have the balance of power after May 2015. Austerity means there are more cuts on the horizon and, whatever we may think of it, charities will be expected to step in and fill some of the gaps left behind.
There are big decisions to make about contracting out public services and asking volunteers to do work once fulfilled by paid staff. And we now know that, for one influential chunk of the electorate, there’s not that much trust in store for any charities brought in to do it.