The great British public are a charitable bunch. But people do not give out their hard-earned cash equally, and they prefer certain charities. A new study I led suggests that a person’s political views and attitudes towards their own country – and whether they voted for or against Brexit – can explain which causes they support.
We asked 1,004 members of a UK nationally representative consumer panel how much they agreed with a range of statements. Some of these statements were aimed at assessing their national identity, such as “If one feels loyal to one’s country, one should strive to mend its problems” and others their political attitudes, such as “Overseas development aid contributes to a more peaceful and equal world”. We also posed questions about their newspaper readership, preferred charitable causes and how they voted in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Our results show that, similar to the referendum results, 51.2% of respondents voted Leave, with 48.8% Remain and a small number who chose not to say.
Overall, while 54% of respondents indicated that they trusted local charities, the picture for international causes was far less positive. Only 31% of people said they trusted international charities with only 26% intending to donate to an international cause in the future.
A local charity’s work is usually more visible locally than work undertaken across continents, and supporting such causes may help somebody feel part of their local community. But those who voted Remain in the referendum were more likely to trust and donate to international causes in the future.
National identity and giving
The survey also included questions measuring the extent to which individuals are patriotic (show a care for their country), nationalistic (seek dominance over other countries) and internationalistic (more concerned with global welfare). Statements here ranged from those which indicated national superiority – “For me, the United Kingdom is the best state in the world” – to those concerning international cooperation – “We should be more willing to share our wealth with other nations, even it if does not necessarily coincide with our political interests”.
From these questions, our respondents were most likely to be patriots (62%) followed by nationalists (47%) or internationalists (45%). Nationalists and patriots showed a positive preference for domestic charities and a neutral stance on international causes. This suggests that individuals with potentially xenophobic attitudes will prioritise home charities, but are not necessarily averse to helping out global causes – provided this does not compromise their own country’s well-being.
In contrast, internationalists supported international charities but were very negative towards domestic causes. From this it appears to be far harder to persuade someone who self-identifies as a “global citizen” to give to domestic charities. Their perceptions of global inequality and severity of need appear more powerful than any desire to help fellow nationals.
The survey also demonstrated that the way people voted in the UK’s referendum on EU membership is a powerful predictor of their donation preferences. Leave voters were more likely to be nationalist, more ethnocentric in their charitable giving and also support austerity policy as a means of reducing national debt.
Remain voters, on the other hand, were more likely to be internationalist, positive towards international charities and supportive of overseas aid. This would suggest that if you know how someone voted in the EU referendum, you can with some confidence predict what sorts of causes they are most likely to support – a handy trick for charities with limited fundraising budgets.
Six types of potential donor
Bringing the data together, the findings indicate the existence of six distinct clusters who vary based upon their charitable giving, political and national attitudes. For example, the “educated liberals” are professionals with a global outlook, pro-Remain attitudes and high trust in all charities – although don’t expect them to donate to causes for the armed forces or emergency services. Similarly, “young urban altruists” have an interationalistic mindset but also display patriotic sentiments, making them a potential target for both domestic and international charities.
On the other hand, the “anti-EU nationalists” harbour right-wing political views, read The Mail, Daily Express and The Sun, are typically less likely to donate to charity but display strong preferences for domestic causes. Although not as nationalistic, “home-first casuals” are also likely to have voted Remain and be more supportive of domestic charities.
“Cautious pragmatists” accounted for 33% of our respondents and describe those people who are less politically engaged. Although they have lower levels of trust in charities than other groups they do donate a modest amount. For those charities after a group to avoid altogether in fundraising terms: beware the “disengaged cynics” who favour domestic over international causes but tend not to trust (or donate to) charities at all.
Our research shows that while some people believe that charity begins at home but can extend to other countries, others feel that charity begins and ends further afield. Targeting the right group of people is crucial for charities who want to fundraise effectively.