New research shows MPs more worried than the public about evidence U-turns

MPs more worried than the public about evidence U-turns

Ipsos MORI research conducted with Sense about Science ahead of Evidence Week in Parliament shows that many MPs believe that when the government changes its course of action, people lose confidence in its use of evidence. Yet the public themselves are just as likely to say that such changes of course make them more confident as make them lose confidence.

The surveys, which looked at the attitudes of MPs and the public to the way evidence is used to make decisions in a time of crisis, found that where 43% of MPs are more likely to agree that a change in course makes the public lose rather than gain confidence in the way the government uses evidence, just a third of the public agree that this applies to them (33%), while a similar proportion (34%) say it makes them more confident.

The survey also found a difference between MPs and the public over whether it’s better to wait until all of the evidence is available before acting: 6 in 10 MPs (62%) think that it is better to act quickly, even if all the evidence is not yet available, whereas the public are evenly divided (38% prefer to act quickly, but 36% to wait for the evidence to be complete).

But their attitudes were similar on the importance of the public being able to see all of the evidence used to inform government actions in times of crisis: over 6 in 10 of both agreed with this (67% of MPs and 62% of the public).

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Older people (aged 55 – 75) are more inclined to favour acting quickly even if the evidence is not available (49%), compared to 36% of those aged 18 – 34.
  • Around half of the public (53%) are not confident that the government had the right approach towards dealing with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic during its early months. (Full results when asked if confident that the UK Government had the right approach towards dealing with the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic in its early months. Very confident 11%, Fairly confident 28%, Not very confident 27%, Not confident at all 26%, Don’t know 8%).
  • But around half of the public (48%) are not confident that MPs have the ability and support they need to scrutinise the evidence behind the government’s policy decisions.

Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science said:

“The past year has shown starkly the importance for Parliament of understanding evidence. COVID-19 is just one issue on an evidence-heavy agenda that sees MPs looking at conflicting models of hospital numbers in the morning, and debating post-Brexit food safety rules in the afternoon. Parliament acts both to scrutinise decisions for voters and as a warning system for how those decisions are affecting the country.

This makes big demands of accessing and understanding evidence quickly. This is why Evidence Week opens with the questions that are animating communities and constituents.”

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director, Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI said:

“Good use of evidence is of course crucial to good government, and something that’s valued by both public and MPs and policy-makers – we know from our previous work with Sense about Science that there are opportunities to improve this.  And there is a broad consensus across MPs and the public that remains about the importance of transparency about the data being used to take decisions in government. This highlights the ongoing importance of public engagement in the evidence used for important decisions making, even in a time of crisis.”

For the full press release CLICK HERE.

Published: Friday 29th October 2021