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Who voted BNP and why?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 08 June 2009

Channel 4 News has been given exclusive access to a unique YouGov poll on BNP voters and their attitudes. Here YouGov President Peter Kellner gives his views on the poll's findings.

the BNP on a European Parliament ballot paper (credit:Getty Images)

The BNP won its first seats in the European parliament not because its supporters are all racist, but because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties.

View the full YouGov results here (.pdf).

This finding emerges from the largest election survey ever conducted in Britain. Last week YouGov questioned more than 32,000 electors in order to understand not only the people who voted Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, but those who backed the Greens, Ukip and the BNP.

Our sample included almost 1,000 BNP voters, and much larger numbers of those who backed the other five parties. As our final prediction poll was the most accurate of all the pre-election surveys, with an average error of just one point, we are confident of the results from this very large sample.

First, who voted BNP? They were mainly men: their voted divided 61 per cent male, 39 per cent female. (Men comprise just 48 per cent in the electorate as a whole.)

They were also more working-class. In the country at large, professional workers outnumber manual workers by 20 per cent to 18 per cent. Among BNP voters the pattern is very different: 36 per cent manual workers, 11 per cent professionals.

One third of them read the Sun or Daily Star as against one in five adults generally; just 6 per cent of BNP voters read the upmarket papers (Times, Telegraph, Guardian etc), which is less than half the national average.

Yet the household income of the typical BNP voter (£27,000 a year) is only slightly below the national median (£29,000) – and not that far below that of a typical Conservative voter (£33,000).

It is not money that marks BNP voters apart as much as their insecurity. Just 19 per cent of BNP voters are "confident that my family will have the opportunities to prosper in the years ahead". This compares with 59 per cent of Labour voters, 47 per cent of Lib Dem and Green voters, and 42 per cent of Conservative voters.

Among Ukip voters the figure is also fairly low, at 28 per cent, which suggests that Ukip also picked up the votes of many who feel the traditional parties let them down – and not just on Europe.

Not surprisingly, BNP voters regard immigration as the top issue facing Britain. Fully 87 per cent of them told us it was one of their top three or four concerns. (This compares with a still-high 49 per cent among the public as a whole.)

But when people are shown the same list and asked which three or four issues "are the most important facing you and your family", the figure falls to 58 per cent. True, this is three times the national average of 20 per cent, yet it means that for almost half of BNP voters, immigration is NOT among the worries of day-to-day life.

We also find that most BNP voters do NOT subscribe to what might be described as "normal racist views". Just 44 per cent agreed with the party in rejecting the view that non-white citizens are just as British as white citizens.

Yet the feeling is widespread that white Britons get a raw deal. Seventy seven per cent of BNP voters think white people suffer unfair discrimination these days. But that is also the views of 40 per cent of the public as a whole.

The average British voter is more likely to think that discrimination afflicts white people than Muslim or non-white people. And only seven per cent of the public think white people benefit from unfair advantages, while more than one in three think Muslim and non-white people receive unfair help.

Thus the BNP is tapping into some very widely held views, such as the desire to stop all immigration, and the belief that local councils "normally allow immigrant families to jump the queue in allocating council homes" (87 per cent of BNP voters think this, but so does 56 per cent of the public as a whole).

Yet, depending on how the term "racist" is precisely defined, our survey suggests that the label applies to only around a half of BNP voters. On their own, these votes would not have been enough to give the BNP either of the seats they won last night.

There are two telling pieces of evidence that suggest wider causes of disenchantment. Seven out of 10 BNP voters (and almost as many Green and Ukip voters) think that "there is no real difference these between Britain’s three main parties".

But perhaps the most startling finding came when we tested anecdotal reports that many BNP voters were old Labour sympathisers who felt that the party no longer speaks up for them. It turns out to be true. As many as 59 per cent of BNP voters think that Labour "used to care about the concerns of people like me but doesn’t nowadays".

What is more worrying for Labour is that this sentiment is shared by millions of voters, way beyond the ranks of BNP voters. Overall, 63 per cent of the British public think Labour used to care about their concerns – and only 19 per cent think it does today.

In contrast, just 29 per cent think the Conservatives used to care about their concerns; this figure has climbed to 37 per cent who think they care in the Cameron era.

Yes, Labour has a problem with voters deserting the party for the BNP. But its far bigger problem as it heads towards the next general election is to extinguish the overwhelming public view, reinforced by the scandal over MPs’ allowances, that today’s Labour Party is no longer on the side of ordinary voters. And that, more than anything else, is why its vote collapsed to just 16 per cent in the Euro election.

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