Which extremists do Britons see as threats in 2024?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 29, 2024, 11:54 AM GMT+0

Islamic terrorism tops the list, although attitudes among Conservative and Labour voters differ significantly

Recent days have seen reminders of the threats that Britain faces from different corners. On Tuesday, three men appeared in court charged with preparing a terrorist act linked to right-wing extremism.

Last week a left-wing anarchist was found guilty of preparing acts of terrorism by compiling and sharing a bomb-making manual, having declaring that he wanted to kill at least 50 people.

And earlier in the month a 16-year-old boy has been found guilty of plotting a terror attack on people he believed had insulted Islam.

Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson’s accusation that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is “under the influence of Islamists” – while resulting in his suspension – has seen other politicians like Suella Braverman raise warnings about Islamic extremism.

But what do the public think? Our new survey shows that the public tend to see Islamic extremism as a big threat to the UK – although right wing extremism is also seen as a serious problem, particularly by Labour voters.

How much of a threat do Britons see extremist groups as being?

Three quarters of Britons (76%) consider Islamic extremists to be a “big threat” or a “moderate threat”. This compares to 59% for right wing extremists, 45% for left wing extremists, and 41% for Irish Republican extremists.*

In the case of the first three, these figures are largely unchanged from a previous wave of this survey in 2021, while the number considering Irish Republican extremists to be a big/moderate threat is down 15pts from 56%.

Attitudes differ significantly on party lines. While 88% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 say that Islamic extremists are a big/moderate threat, this falls to 71% among 2019 Labour voters. Labour voters are in just as likely to see right-wing extremists as a big/moderate threat (73%), and specifically more likely to see right-wing extremism as a ‘big’ threat than Islamic extremism (51% vs 40%).

Most Conservative voters (54%) see right-wing extremism as a big/moderate threat, although far fewer see it as a ‘big’ threat (22%) than their Labour counterparts.

Conservative voters are indeed more likely to see left-wing extremists as a big threat (37%) or a big/moderate threat (65%) than right-wing extremists. By contrast, only 31% of Labour voters see left-wing extremism as a big/moderate threat.

Who do the public see as the biggest threat?

Speaking in November 2022, MI5 chief Ken McCallum said that the general threats to the UK were a mix of Islamist and extreme right-wing terrorism, with the former being the larger problem, accounting for three quarters of their caseload.

Among the wider public, 50% say that Islamic extremists are the largest threat among the groups asked about. Right wing extremists come next, at 23%, with most of the rest of people saying they are unsure (22%).

However, 2019 Labour voters tend to say that right-wing extremists are the biggest threat, at 50% compared to 29% who say so of Islamist extremists. By contrast, 2019 Conservative voters are far more united in the view that Islamist extremists are the biggest threat (73%).

* Please note that this survey was only conducted on the British mainland, i.e. in England, Scotland and Wales, and so does not include Northern Irish respondents.

See the full results here

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