Under threat: the legacy of the riots

The UK riots may have damaged properties and businesses, but the real damage hasn’t even been properly considered yet, say University of Nottingham experts.

The riots have sparked debates on what caused the violence and looting, but there has been precious little talk of the riots’ legacy for Britain, which a new study — led by Drs Matthew Goodwin, Mark Pickup and Eline de Rooij — shows an increase in the number of Britons that feel their security and their wider society and culture is threatened; something they say government needs to take very seriously, as the people who felt more threatened were more likely to express prejudice toward minority groups.

“The study uncovered many significant areas of concern,” says Goodwin.”Chief among them is that those who felt after the riots that their security was under greater threat, were more likely to express hostile attitudes toward Muslims.

“Those who felt afterwards that wider British society and culture were under greater threat were more likely to express hostility toward Muslims and also Black and East European communities. So, while the riots were not associated in the public mindset with particular minority groups, they have nonetheless potentially increased prejudice in British society. This is a troublesome effect.”

“There has been some research on the subject,” says Pickup, “but most of the work has looked specifically at the riots themselves. We put a survey into the field two weeks before the riots. The events around the country have given us the chance to see how attitudes have changed”

The perception of threat is identified as an important aspect. As the study demonstrates the feeling of threat feeds prejudice towards other groups with issues like immigration one of the most emotive.

“We were interested in seeing whether people felt more or less threatened after the riots”, says Goodwin.”Feelings of ‘threat’ are especially important, as they have been shown to have powerful effects on public attitudes toward issues such as immigration and diversity, and also on voting behaviour.

“If people feel more threatened then they are more likely to express prejudice toward other groups, favour more restrictive policies on issues such as immigration and support extremist parties.”

The study’s broad findings show public perceptions of individual economic threat did not increase after the riots, and neither did collective economic threat. This gives evidence that people were not primarily concerned about the economic impact of the riots.

Rather, following the riots people felt more threatened in specifically two ways. First, people were more likely to feel that their safety was threatened; they were more fearful of increasing violence and vandalism in their neighbourhood.

Feelings of security threat increased by 10% and feelings of cultural threat increased by 5%. These were ‘statistically significant’ effects.

“It is rare that we are able to observe and measure the effects of a significant real-world event, such as the riots,” says Pickup.

“But the findings tell us more than just the effects of the riots. It reveals how threats to security and culture, whatever the source, reduce tolerance in our society.”

The study is based on the ‘Academic Omnibus Project’ run by the polling organization, YouGov. It draws on two (online) surveys of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 citizens in the first survey (11-18 July) and 2,000 citizens in the second (17-18 August). The surveys included a battery of questions about individuals’ social and economic profile, their attitudes toward minority groups and voting intention. These questions allowed them to probe the extent to which citizens feel threatened, and prejudiced toward minority groups.

The study was led by Mark Pickup and Matthew Goodwin from the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, and Eline de Rooij from Nuffield College at the University of Oxford.