Values, voting and volunteering

If you’re a typical Brit, you may love Strictly Come Dancing, worry about the household budget and quite fancy your boss’s job. But you’ll also value friendship, honesty and justice above image, money and success.

Our new report – Perceptions Matter: the Common Cause UK Values Surveypublished today, finds that old or young, north or south, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, male or female, UK citizens attach greater importance to compassionate values than selfish values. Overall, 74% of UK citizens prioritise their values in this way. And this really does seem to be the case – the design of our survey enabled us to dismiss the possibility that people were simply reluctant to own up to holding selfish values.

But if you are a typical Brit, you’ll also be convinced that other people hold these compassionate values to be less important than is really the case. When we asked people about the values that they thought that a typical fellow citizen holds to be important, 77% underestimated the importance attached to compassionate values and overestimated the importance attached to selfish values. “There’s a focus on earning money,” we were told by one survey participant in Essex. “There’s a culture of self, and not a culture of responsibility. It’s all about me, my needs, not society’s need.”

This is important because we found that the more people underestimate the significance that others attach to compassionate values, the less likely they are to have voted in recent elections, the lower their intentions to volunteer or support the work of a charity, and the more alienated they are prone to feel.

Voting graph


Another participant, a woman from Wales, provided a clue as to why this might be. “It’s a very materialistic society that we live in,” she told us. “I don’t like it very much. I try to express my values as much as possible but, to live with other people, you just try and play the roles as much as possible.”

Perhaps that’s the problem: people “play the roles”, reluctant to act in line with the compassionate values they hold to be most important, because this would leave them feeling out-of-kilter with what they think they know about wider society. This reluctance would in turn deepen the widespread misperception that most people care less for compassionate values than is actually the case.

As this spiral gathers energy, people are left tragically and needlessly less civically engaged and more socially alienated. Your misperceptions of others, in other words, may hold you back in helping to mount collective responses to the major challenges that confront UK society today like child poverty, care for the elderly and climate change.

Can this spiral be reversed? Yes. The first step is to talk to people with the conviction that the things they value aren’t so different from the things that you probably value most yourself. That is, by talking as though a sense of vocation is more important than take-home pay; as though caring for those in need is more important than weeding out welfare cheats; as though educating the next generation to be compassionate and open-minded is more important than teaching the skills needed for global competitiveness.

When you talk to people in this way – whether as an employee, a manager, a job-seeker, a politician, a student, a celebrity or a teacher – you’ll not only connect with the values that matter most, to most people, but you’ll also encourage others to express these values themselves.

Download the new report.

Tom CromptonValues, voting and volunteering
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Liberals are a prejudiced bunch – and it may cost them dearly at the polls

When it comes to estimating the values of the British public, liberals tend to get it wrong. Our new research reveals why this may undermine liberals’ motivation to become politically involved.

The story goes that liberals have a soft, idealistic view of human nature, while conservatives have the more hardened view that people are essentially competitive or out for their own gain. Is this true? Researchers in the past, looking at ideology, trust and social responsibility, conclude that the ‘misanthropic conservative’ is basically a myth. Our research on values goes a step further, suggesting that, if anything, it’s liberals who are most likely to underestimate their peers.

People’s perceptions of other people’s values
In a recent blog, we shared some results of a survey conducted by Ipsos-MORI on behalf of Common Cause Foundation. We asked UK citizens what they value, and what they think other people in Britain value. We found that most people (77.6%) have an unnecessarily pessimistic view about the values of a typical Brit. Most people under-estimate the importance of self-transcendence values to their peers (that is, values that are generally concerned with the wellbeing of others), and overestimate the importance of self-enhancement values (that is, values focused on the pursuit of personal status and success).

This is unfortunate, because besides going through life with a sadly pessimistic view of other people, this misconception may also be linked to a person’s motivation to become involved in various forms of civic engagement. So, for example, we found that a person’s perception of other people’s values is a significant predictor of his or her motivation to vote.

Cartoon by Bec Sanderson

‘What’s the point in voting’ by Bec Sanderson

Tom Crompton and Bec SandersonLiberals are a prejudiced bunch – and it may cost them dearly at the polls
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Growing the Electorate

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour party, pointed out this morning that 36% of the electorate didn’t vote in the last election. He underscored the need to “grow the electorate”. New research that we’ve conducted provides insights into how this might be achieved.

The appeal to non-voters is not new. In the UK, general election turnout dropped below 70% for the first time since 1918 when Blair came to his second ‘quiet landslide’ victory in 2001, and it hasn’t recovered since. Many have tried to understand what might explain or remedy this, pointing to the need to believe that your vote makes a difference (demonstrated in the recent Scottish referendum, where turnout was very high, and thereafter sustained in unusually high Scottish turnout in the general election). Others have cited the need to believe that political parties offer real choice, pointing to the perceived narrowing of the political mainstream under New Labour’s shift to the right. Both these explanations suggest a wider perception that people feel increasingly alienated from – and distrustful of – the political process.

Our new research adds a further, and complementary, idea: that voting is importantly affected by what Brits think other Brits value.


Tom Crompton and Bec SandersonGrowing the Electorate
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Corporate values for the 21st Century


The last few months and years have seen a string of enormous corporate failures – from FIFA, to the Cooperative Bank in the UK, and more recently Volkswagen.  Of course each one of these has a very different set of causes, but can they tell us anything about the values of these organisations, and about the sort of systems and processes we will need for companies to be fit for the 21st Century?

Oliver SmithCorporate values for the 21st Century
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A crisis of values?

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe throws up some profound questions for us all, and the place of values in our politics and lives. Maybe some of the action we have belatedly seen over the last few weeks could point the way to a new sort of politics, and a new way of living our values?

Refugees WelcomePolitics by perceived values

Have politicians misjudged the values that most of us hold? In just a few days a petition for the UK government to accept more asylum seekers was signed by over 400,000 people, compelling a debate in parliament. The government agreed to take 20,000 refugees, over five years – an enormous increase from the handful we’ve accepted so far.

Common Cause Foundation has recently conducted research in the UK and the US looking at the values people hold, and the values they think their fellow citizens hold. We’re still analysing this, but here are two early results. Firstly, a large majority of people hold self-transcendence values (generally concerned with the wellbeing of others) to be more important than self-enhancement values (based on the pursuit of personal status and success). But this isn’t seen by most people, who believe that their compatriots hold self-transcendence values to be less important, and self-enhancement values to be more important.

Perhaps this is a key reason why many people don’t get engaged and active, although sharing values that would otherwise lead them to – because they believe that they are in a minority, and that society at large doesn’t share their values. We call this the ‘perception gap’. It’s a gap that many in our media, and many in government, seem to work hard to perpetuate.

Oliver SmithA crisis of values?
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Great British Values


Do you know what the most popular television programme was last year? It was the Great British Bake Off final, and they’ve repeated the feat this year – a record audience saw Nadiya Hussain’s win, with viewing figures of up to 14.5m (and millions more watched it on catch up TV systems).

A programme about baking, where the contestant’s unknown amateurs win a magnificent prize – a bunch of flowers and a glass plaque – beat everything else hands down; it beat all the celebrity shows, the soaps, all the ‘talent shows’ with huge prizes and a sadistic whiff of humiliating the eccentric and vulnerable.

When the immigration debate has taken another nasty turn (with the spurious suggestion that immigration is bad for the country and incompatible with social cohesion) wasn’t it fantastic to see such a cross section of the UK represented?

Despite all of its flaws, we are privileged in the UK to have a national public broadcaster – the BBC – that produces this and many other programmes, without the intervention of commercials.

Our exposure to a constant barrage of advertising has a serious long term effect. The report Common Cause Foundation co-published with Public Interest Research centre in 2011 “Think of Me as Evil?” presented evidence that advertising increases overall consumption; that it promotes and normalises a whole host of behaviours, attitudes and values, many of which are socially and environmentally damaging; that it manipulates individuals on a subconscious level, both children and adults; and that it is so pervasive in modern society as to make the choice of opting-out from exposure virtually impossible.

The BBC is one place we can turn for information and entertainment without this exposure; if it didn’t exist we’d be campaigning to invent it.

PS The meringues are vegan, I made these using chickpea water, cream of tartar and sugar. No chickens or unicorns were harmed.

Oliver SmithGreat British Values
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Food Values Report Launched

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” Louise Fresco

The Food Values report has just launched! This 9-month research project has attracted a large network of teachers, researchers, community growers, farmers and campaigners working on food in Wales. Through a series of events, we’ve shared stories and recipes of soup in Cardiff,  worked on the promotion of organic food by Organic Centre Wales (OCW), and recorded traditional rural food practices in North Wales with children and older members of the community. All of our events involved sharing a meal and learning about some aspect of food.  Using this as a basis for reflection on how values-based food education is delivered,  PIRC, OCW and Aberystwyth University have pulled it all into a report (Welsh version here). We are now setting our sights further afield: on the food system in Wales.

Speaking at our launch event in Cardiff, Jane Davidson (former Minister for the Environment in Wales) and Peter Davies (Sustainable Futures Commissioner), citing the opportunity for political leverage ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections next Summer, gave an enthusiastic call for the next step in the Food Values project: a Food Manifesto for Wales.

So – what have we learned about food values?  And what’s next?

Food Values launch visual minutes

Food Values launch, Cardiff 2015 – visual minutes by Laura Sorvala

Bec SandersonFood Values Report Launched
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The Common Cause Communication Toolkit

Toolkit frontcoverTake a look at our new Common Cause Communication Toolkit, which comprises a book and a series of other downloadable resources. The Toolkit presents a set of practical principles for crafting Common Cause Communications, each built on a solid research foundation.

These principles are then applied to a range of different examples of charity communications – in crafting communications, campaigns or fundraising copy.

We hope that resource will be useful to a wide range of different charities. We carefully developed it through collaboration between two very different organisations: WWF (a conservation charity) and Scope (a disability rights charity). The principles that we develop are equally applicable across a wide range of different causes!

Do let us know:

  • what you think of this new resource
  • if you need help applying these principles to a particular communications challenge that you confront
  • if you would like to collaborate in further extending this stream of work, or in testing it in new contexts
  • if you would like us to send you hard copies of the book (these are free, though we ask for a contribution to the costs of postage)


Tom CromptonThe Common Cause Communication Toolkit
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Developing Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals

Where does poverty come from?

Whatever your answer, it’ll shape what you think we should do about it. If you think it’s natural, for example, then perhaps all we can do about it is alleviate suffering rather than get rid of it. Perhaps we shouldn’t do anything about it at all.

Your answer will subsequently have an impact on how effective you are at addressing poverty. Will you introduce incentive schemes because you believe poor people are just not trying hard enough; or higher taxes for the rich because you believe historically there has been an unfair allocation of resources? Do you reduce or increase social benefits, like unemployment or child benefits?


In other words, the way we ‘frame’ poverty has a direct link with our political response.

It’s worrying, then, that an upcoming report from /The Rules suggests that the understanding of poverty that underpins the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs) is faulty. Worrying because the SDGs, which replace the Millenium Development Goals, represent the political response of the entire international community to global poverty.

Elena BlackmoreDeveloping Discourse or Stunted Growth? Taking the Sustainable out of the Sustainable Development Goals
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Framing farming

In this guest blog, communications scholar and animal activist Carrie P. Freeman writes about framing veganism — and her new book. 


In deciding which appeal to use in their campaigns to end exploitation of nonhuman animals killed for food, the animal rights movement faces a significant framing challenge.

As a long time animal activist and communication scholar, when I was writing the book Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights, I wondered, how could animal rights activists speak authentically to promote animal rights ideas and values when attempting to persuade meat-lovers to stop eating animals?

I argue that this isn’t fully accomplished by the movement’s common focus on the grotesque suffering caused by factory farming, which is largely an appeal to widely-held beliefs in animal welfare and the wholesomeness of ‘family farming’. This isn’t necessarily transforming society’s beliefs about the place of nonhuman animals in the world (we need to be anti-exploitation not just anti-industrial).

By contrast, some argue that “go veg” messages should take a more expedient approach of primarily appealing to people’s self-interested health concerns against cholesterol, toxins, disease, or pollution caused by agribusiness, hoping any behavioral changes toward eating more vegan foods (even for self-centered reasons) will eventually open people’s minds to seeing animals differently.

Contributing to classic framing debates faced by all social movements, Framing Farming examines the animal rights movement’s struggles over whether to construct farming campaign messages based more on utility (emphasizing animal welfare, farming reform, dietary meat reduction, and human self-interest) or ideology (emphasizing animal rights and ecological ethics and a belief in abolition of enslavement). I prioritize the latter, “ideological authenticity,” to promote a needed transformation in worldviews and human animal identity, not just behaviors (See Crompton & Kasser’s book). This would mean framing “go veg” messages not only around compassion, but also around principles of justice, liberty, and ecology, reframing these values less anthropocentrically, to convince people that “it’s not fair to farm anyone” (with nonhuman animals included as someone).

For example:

  • In problematising the unsustainability of animal agribusiness and commercial fishing, animal activists should highlight how it is unfair to wildlife (free animals), killing them, polluting their habitats, and using an excessive amount of the shared resources (like land and water) that many living beings need. This altruistic, biocentric appeal highlights sharing and is preferred to talking about environmental pollution primarily in terms of human interests, such as making appeals to “our clean water” or our risk of mercury contamination from eating fish.
  • To do the hard but necessary work of challenging speciesist discrimination and the human/animal dualism, animal activists should remind us that we too are animals (to include them in our ingroup). For example, “we animals are more than just protein.”

In the book, I not only describe what 21st Century animal rights campaigns are communicating and why leaders make these strategic choices, I also prescribe recommendations for values they should communicate to remain culturally resonant while promoting needed long-term social transformation in human identity away from the instrumental viewing of others as resources. Because ‘no cause is an island,’ this helps the animal rights movement contribute to the larger connected goals of all causes – respect for living beings.

Tom CromptonFraming farming
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