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Can the ‘downward spiral’ of material conditions, mental health and faith in government be stopped? Evidence from surveys in ‘red wall’ constituencies

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Michael Johnson, Professor Daniel Nettle



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© The Author(s) 2023. If policy preferences follow material interests, the experience of socioeconomic disadvantage ought to increase support for redistributive policies. However, experiencing disadvantage might also reduce faith in government’s ability to make things better, indirectly reducing support for redistributive action, and leading to a spiral of widening disadvantage and increasing political disengagement. Indeed, disadvantaged communities sometimes favour right-wing platforms over those offering redistribution, as in the taking of ‘red wall’ constituencies in the North and Midlands of England by the UK Conservative party in 2019. This article uses quantitative data from a survey of ‘red wall’ voters (n = 805) to examine the bases of people’s perceptions of redistributive policies. We find that even a radical redistributive policy, Universal Basic Income (UBI), receives consistently high levels of support (69.45 SD 27.24). Lower socioeconomic status, greater financial distress and greater risk of destitution all increase support. These effects are partly mediated by mental distress, which is markedly higher among the less well off. However, the same socioeconomic factors also reduce faith in government, which in turn is associated with lower support. Thus, those who stand to benefit most from redistribution are aware of their material interests, but are also the least confident in the ability of government to improve their lives. As such, there is a clear political challenge for progressive politicians: those whose support they depend upon require a significant redistributive offer, but also need to be persuaded of the viability of reform to support progressive change.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Johnson MT, Aidan Johnson E, Reed H, Nettle D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: British Journal of Politics and International Relations

Year: 2024

Volume: 26

Issue: 1

Pages: 131-148

Print publication date: 01/02/2024

Online publication date: 10/01/2023

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 31/01/2023

ISSN (print): 1369-1481

ISSN (electronic): 1467-856X

Publisher: SAGE Publications Inc.


DOI: 10.1177/13691481221146886


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