Breaking lockdown rules? An experiment into what the public see as acceptable

Adam McDonnellResearch Director of Political and Social Research
May 20, 2020, 11:12 AM GMT+0

On the weekend prior to the relaxing of lockdown measures in England, two images went viral on Twitter causing arguments about whether those depicted were flaunting the rules.

The first was a picture tweeted by Hackney police showing people eating and drinking in a park. The second was a short video of people doing a “socially distanced” conga at a street party celebrating VE day. Similar examples have also prompted discussion over rule breakers throughout the coronavirus crisis.

To test the British public’s response to the two pictures, YouGov ran a simple experiment showing half of respondents one of the photos and half of respondents the other. We then asked both groups whether they thought the actions depicted were acceptable or not.

In both cases, the majority of respondents think that they unacceptable during lockdown. However, one act was seen as more acceptable than the other. The photo showing people eating and drinking in the park was branded acceptable by just one in eight Brits (12%), while 81% say it was unacceptable.

For the VE day conga, however, over a third of British adults (35%) say it was acceptable, with 51% saying unacceptable.

This could be a political issue, with Leave voters far more likely to think the participants in the VE photo weren’t doing anything wrong (48%) than Remain voters (29%). In fact, Leave voters were ten points more likely to think the party was acceptable than unacceptable, whereas fully 60% of Remain voters disapproved.

Age is also a key factor, although some of this this may be tied to the fact that age is a key predictor of someone’s EU referendum vote. Just 11% of under 25s think the VE conga is acceptable (the same proportion of this group who say the park photo is unacceptable). In contrast, over 65s are more likely to think the “socially distanced” conga was fine with 52% saying it was acceptable, and 33% unacceptable.

Interestingly, while they are the most approving group when it comes to the VE day conga photo, the over 65s are the most disapproving age group when it comes to the park photo. Just 5% say these actions are acceptable compared to 92% who say unacceptable.

It is worth noting that these photos were chosen due to the timing that they were released and the attention they received on social media. It is important to acknowledge that the VE day photo was initially released as a positive story and reported as people abiding by the rules. The park photo was initially released as a complaint about people breaking the rules. It has also been criticised for using a wide angle lens, making the area look more crowded.

See the full results here

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