By Louis Stupple-Harris, Research and Campaigns Manager at the British Science Association

The chasm between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ has been talked about at length recently, but is there really much of a difference between the two groups? And would that difference be reflected in their attitudes towards science?

Once the decision was made about the UK’s future relationship with Europe, the British Science Association commissioned research to find out if or how someone’s relationship with science relates to their feelings on Brexit. We also asked a series of questions about their relationship with the arts and culture, as well as their gender, income, and qualifications in science and other subjects. These pieces of information help us to build a picture of how we can best connect with our audiences.

To get this data, we added a handful of questions into the latest Culture Tracker survey run by King’s College London. It’s an online survey that was filled out by exactly 2,000 people aged 16 and up. The survey ran in November 2016, during the US Presidential election and not long after the referendum vote. We can be reasonably confident in the survey being representative, except that it excludes people without access to the internet.

This research is just the beginning of us trying to understand more about how people feel about science, and how we can work to make science work for everyone. Please get in touch with your thoughts and ideas for other questions we could ask in the future!

Our audience groups

Our aim at the BSA is to create a society where everyone has the skills and opportunity to learn about, experience and influence science. When we’re thinking about what motivates people to get involved in science, we look at how someone’s feelings about science affect how they interact with science-themed events, TV and radio, political topics etc. that use evidence.

To make this easier to visualise, we use a four-category model (see figure 1) to split people up based on their feelings and actions around science. Each zone is a step along our journey to science engagement.

  • Uninterested: people who see science as not for them
  • Interested: those that are potentially open to science but make no particular efforts to engage
  • Engaged: those that are enthusiastic about science and actively seek out information and events
  • Experts: professionals who produce or curate scientific knowledge by working in a science-related job or studying science

In Figure 1 below, you can see that we want people to move from ‘uninterested’ and ‘interested’ to ‘engaged’ or ‘expert’.

Figure 1

We use the following survey questions to categorise people into these groups.

Do you work in a science related job or study a science subject?

  • Science related job = Expert zone
  • Study science subject = Expert zone
  • Both study science and work in a science job = Expert zone
  • Neither

Which of these statements best describes your relationship with science?

  • I feel connected with science – I actively seek out science news, events, activities or entertainment = Engaged zone
  • I’m interested in science but I don’t make a special effort to keep informed = Interested zone
  • Science is not for me = Uninterested zone

The UK population breaks down into our audience zones as in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2

Gender

In our own evaluations, we include an ‘other’ option when asking a person’s gender, however, the design of this survey only allowed for the two options of male or female. People selecting ‘male’ were twice as likely to be engaged in science compared to the ‘female’ group, and those who selected ‘female’ were almost twice as likely to describe themselves as uninterested in science when compared to the ‘male’ group, as in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3

Interest in arts and culture

We often collaborate with arts organisations to widen our reach, but are we getting to new audiences? People who described themselves as engaged with science were also most likely to say they are interested in arts and culture as well, more so than people in science-related jobs or studying science (see Figure 4 below). So perhaps we must look outside the groups engaged in other activities.

Figure 4

Brexit

We were interested in how the Brexit vote might have related to views about science, so we asked a question about how respondents voted in the referendum (see Figure 5 below). The nation voted to leave the EU with 37.5% of votes to leave, 34.7% to remain and 27.8% not voting. Participants in our online survey were more likely to vote overall, according to the graph below. This is a bit surprising because our survey included people aged 16 and 17, who would have been unable to vote, however we think this may indicate that those that choose to participate in online surveys are more likely to go out and vote.

Figure 5

Figure 6 (below) implies that those in the engaged group are most likely to vote remain, however we should take this with a pinch of salt because the size of these groups is quite small. Also, the larger number of people not permitted to vote could be made up of GCSE students and foreign students.

Figure 6

When we isolate only those that voted, the engaged and expert groups seem roughly similar, as shown in Figure 7 below.

Figure 7

To delve a bit deeper, we looked at how the referendum votes compared to views on arts and culture. Those that voted remain are slightly more likely to be interested in arts and culture.

Figure 8

Scientists and Brexit

Throughout the campaign we saw lots of discussion by scientists around the benefits of staying in the EU – they talked about how free movement and coordinated funding made science in the UK better and more collaborative. So, we decided to ask people in the expert zone how they voted. When asked how they voted in the referendum, people with a science-related job were much more likely to vote than those studying science alone.

Figure 9

People with science-related jobs were also more likely than everyone else to vote remain, with 56% voting to stay in the EU compared to 47% of people not working in science. People that study science were even more likely to vote remain, with 63% of those that voted voting remain (see Figure 10 below).

Figure 10

Qualifications

We engage with people from all walks of life, so it’s good for us to keep track of rough levels of education so that we can pitch our content correctly and create enjoyable experiences.

The survey showed that people that are engaged with science are more likely to have a higher level of science qualification, and crucially, the more-engaged are more likely to have a higher level of qualification in any subject. This should factor into the way we communicate to our audiences, particularly to the less engaged, who are most likely to have left school after GCSE. It could also indicate that collaborating with arts organisations to reach their audiences may result in reaching the same types of people, rather than those that are disengaged from science. Here’s a graph of qualifications in any subject:

Figure 11

And here’s one for science qualifications:

Income

Socio-economic status is a crucial factor in access to science learning and engagement opportunities. It is difficult to measure – the best proxy we have is household income - but there is a clear difference in average household income between zones, as shown below.

Figure 12

Age

We sometimes create opportunities to engage for specific age groups, so measuring these is important. The proportion of those in the engaged and interested groups is highest between ages 25 and 29, with older groups progressively less engaged (see Figure 13). It is not clear if this is representing depletion in interest over time or that younger people are genuinely more interested.

Figure 13

Next steps

This data has already given us some great ideas for how to think about our programmes. We’re excited to look in more detail at this data and come up with innovative ways of measuring our impact on science and society.

Get in touch if you have ideas for how we could use this data for even greater impact, or if you can think of any good questions for us to ask next time!