Who opposes lockdown?
Something that has been fairly consistent in the polling on lockdown is that most people are supportive of restrictions. While this particular post relies heavily on British Election Study wave 20, which was back in June 2020, there has not been any dramatic movement in opinion on lockdown - the noisy cross-tabs of YouGov and Survation polls have shown that support for lockdown has remained strong since the first UK lockdown in March 2020 until now. On June 14th of this year, YouGov released a poll showing that 70 per cent of people in England supported the government’s decision to delay the re-opening from June to July. Looking back to January, 37 per cent of people believed that the stricter measures introduced at that point were ‘just right’, and 48 per cent believed that they were not strict enough, leaving only 9 per cent of people saying that restrictions were ‘too strict’. The chart above (using data from the BES) shows the extent to which the British public support lockdown - when rating themselves between 0 and 10 on how much they approve of lockdown, with 0 being ‘strongly oppose lockdown’ and 10 being ‘strongly support lockdown’, just a smidge under 50% of respondents give the maximum score of 10, and the mean score is 8.1.
But who exactly are the people who are opposed to lockdowns? Some of the media coverage of opposition to lockdown has given the impression that there is a strong relationship between voting leave and being opposed to lockdowns. There is a degree of the truth in this, the chart above shows how being a leave supporter affects support for lockdowns - it is true that leave supporters are slightly less likely to give a score of 10, and slightly more likely to give a lower score, but the mean support for lockdown doesn’t change a lot. The mean score for leave voters is about 7.9, compared to about 8.4 for those who do not support leave - not a totally insignificant difference, but not enough to explain a huge amount of the variance in support for lockdowns.
Running a few regressions on the data, other variables are more negatively correlated with lockdown approval than supporting Leave. As already shown, if we know that someone is a leave voter we can expect their lockdown approval rating to be on average 0.5 lower than someone who does not support leave, but this coefficient doubles for respondents who score themselves as right-wing (the criterion here being ranking themselves 8, 9, or 10 on the left/right scale, with 10 being most right-wing). If someone scores themselves as right-wing, their lockdown approval rating is on average 1 point lower than someone who does not identify as right-wing, which means that there is a stronger correlation between being right-wing and opposing lockdown than there is between supporting leave and opposing lockdown. Even just being male is more strongly correlated with opposing lockdown - being male is associated with a 0.6 decrease in support for lockdowns, which again is slightly higher than the 0.5 decrease associated with supporting leave.
Age is also a useful predictor of who is likely to oppose a lockdown, although the correlation is not as strong as the other variables mentioned. When running a linear regression, it looks as though the older someone is, the more likely they are to support a lockdown. In fact, this doesn’t quite capture the relationship between the two, as the chart above shows (please note that the Y axis on the above chart does not start at 0 because each age group has a fairly similar average level of lockdown support, so starting the Y axis at 6 makes it easier to see the differences). While older people are on average more likely to support a lockdown, the age group that is most likely to support a lockdown is the group that covers the ages between 46 and 55, and those over 65 actually have lower average support for the lockdown than those aged between 26 and 35, 36 and 45, 45 and 55, and those between 56 and 65. So while it is true that the age group that has the lowest average support for lockdown are those between the ages of 18 and 25, those who are over 65 have the third lowest average support for lockdown (the under 18s come second).
So, what do we know about those who oppose lockdowns? They’re slightly more likely to support leave, but the correlation between opposing lockdown and being right-wing is stronger, and even the association between being male and having lower support for lockdowns is slightly stronger than the Leave relationship. The relationship between age and average support for lockdown is a bit weird - being older has a small positive correlation with supporting lockdown, but over 65s (despite being the group that is most at risk from COVID by far) have lower average levels of support for lockdown than the age groups between 26 and 65. There is something odd going on in that among pundits, the relationship between voting leave and opposing lockdowns seems very strong - perhaps this says something about the fact that pundits who support leave and voters who support leave are rather different, and media consumers should take extra care not to conflate the views of leave voters in the public eye and leave voters in general.