The EU-funded study found that 62% of people in the UK think their government ignores rules and procedures, compared with an average of 44% and well above the next highest, Poland (50%), where the administration has been accused of authoritarianism.
The results, published on Wednesday, came as Boris Johnson was facing fresh claims of lying to MPs over his knowledge of – and attendance at – parties during Covid lockdowns after photos emerged of him raising a glass at a Downing Street leaving drinks event.
The other countries in the King’s College London (KCL) study, which surveyed 12,000 people in January, were Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway but the UK and Poland tended to rate worst on matters of trust and legitimacy. For example, Poland – in each case followed by the UK – had the highest percentage of people who felt their government’s values were mostly different to theirs, who felt their government usually ignores people like them and who think that their government acts unfairly towards people like them.
Additionally, 66% of people in the UK felt their government was not well respected, again second only to Poland (76%).
Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at KCL, said: “None of the countries in the study do particularly well, with large proportions in each saying they’re cautious in trusting their government, disagreeing that they are honest, truthful and provide unbiased information – although people do tend to be more positive in Norway and Germany than other nations.
“The key point of difference that stands out in the UK is that six in 10 say the government ‘ignores rules and procedures’, compared with an average of 44% across the countries as a whole and only 34% in Norway – which will likely reflect the widespread coverage of ‘Partygate’. It is important to focus on rebuilding this perception, as it could affect the legitimacy of government and the public’s willingness to comply with the rules themselves.”
The countries were selected for the study to reflect a range of different contexts across factors such as location within Europe, population size, GDP levels, political structure and levels of trust in institutions, as measured in previous studies.
People in the UK had an unfavourable perception of government trustworthiness across a range of other questions too but this was largely in line with views in other countries.
They had a comparatively high degree of animosity towards the media, with 31% of the UK public saying they felt negatively towards news and media organisations. The only other country where the media were viewed in a similarly negative light was in Poland (32%). And, perhaps unsurprisingly given the Brexit vote, the UK had the highest proportion of people ( 37%) who rated their feelings towards the European Commission negatively. The six-country average on this question was 26%.
By contrast, the UK had one of the highest favourable ratings for scientists, whose profile increased during the Covid pandemic. The proportion viewing scientists working at universities positively was 55% just behind the high of 56%, recorded in both Ireland and Italy.