UBI comes out positively in polling, but the polling is fragile

Earlier this year, polling showed that less than one in ten people know what the phrase ‘universal basic income’ means.

Redfield & Wilton has now tried out explaining UBI to people and seeing what they then think of it:

Universal Basic Income is a programme whereby a Government guarantees every adult citizen a certain amount of money each year. This guaranteed income would be given to all adult citizens without exception, regardless of their employment status or their wealth. To what extent, if at all, would you support or oppose the implementation of Universal Basic Income in the UK?

The result? 59% support it and 17% oppose it.

An important caveat, however. Such single question probes into the popularity of a policy are very fragile. Even when a question is worded clearly and neutrally, it can often give an answer very different from how the public ends up viewing a policy.

The 2017 dementia tax is a classic example. In Conservative Party polling, a neutrally worded question found the policy did fine with the public. In the heat of an election campaign, and with the dementia tax label attached, the policy bombed.

Going further back, the concept of replacing council tax with a local income tax often did well in Liberal Democrat market research. It then did rather less well when exposed to counter-arguments in the heat of elections.

The wording used by Redfield & Wilton is pretty good, but it doesn’t present any counter-arguments or information on where the money would come from. It’s also just the one question. So don’t read too much into that 59%. It’s a straw in the wind rather than a reliable foundation on which to make decisions.

But 59% is definitely a much more positive finding than 9% would have been.


The poll also asked if people would be more or less likely to vote for a party that supports UBI. However such questions, although popular, are so deeply flawed and so poor a predictor of what voters end up doing that I’ve got a whole section in my next book on why you should ignore such questions. 

5 responses to “UBI comes out positively in polling, but the polling is fragile”

  1. I’m afraid that in the heat of an election campaign UBI will bomb. I can see the Tory propaganda now – Lib Dems give money to the work shy. It is a policy to examine in government, not while we are campaigning.

  2. Would it not be wiser to publish a questionaire stating alternatives as well as UBI to get a clearer picture so that at the time of an election the voters can decide?

  3. If that was my first info on UBI, I would support it. However it is not, so I know basically that the problems are mind blowing. Namely, what is the level , this is important as many are now in receipt of Govt benefits and Council tax relief. Is it intended to replace all Govt assistance or in addition? So you get for example universal credit as you are not working, maybe you have a health condition etc. Well do you still get it on top of UBI or does the UBI come off your universal credit. Second, if this is in addition, an extremely high level of taxation would occur for some. So this means undoubtedly it will not do what Andrew Yang, US Democratic Presidential contender, hoped it would, he hoped it would free up people to set up businesses or even provide funding for those businesses.

    So you cannot ask the question without telling people the level and if other benefits are axed. If it is £100 say, what will that do? Axe Universal credit or not? Will it mean people do less work or start businesses. If it is £200, what then. Same question. and of course I haven’t even mentioned if this is only for working age people, meaning is it axed at the age of (currently) 66. And of course that means the Govt pension will still exist, and if you have only that income as a retired person, this will not help you financially. And of course if you are renting, you will still need Govt help as it is currently about £9,000 PA.

    In the future I think that some people reckon Robots will do the work we mostly do today, so it can be assumed that businesses will make money without the need for people to do work for low pay. Or even high pay. So that means Govt will be most likely to spend on UBI, because Robots are making the money for them. In that case, it may work. Until then forget it.

  4. Do some polling where the given amount for UBI is given (would it be £2000 pa? Or £20000 pa?)

    Also do some polling where it is made clear that even millionaires and multi-millionaires would receive UBI, and watch the British equivalent of the Janteloven kick in.

  5. The reason it does not poll well with Pensioners, is that UBI would probably just replace the non-NI Contribution State Basic Pension. It is unlikely to be higher so there would to no increase in their income. UBI already exists for Pensioners, you get it based solely on age!

    It is more a policy for the working age population

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.