2 out of 3 people believe others are too offended by language use, while nearly half say they're not allowed to say what they think about key issuesby Tom Clark / February 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Arguments about “political correctness” have loomed large in the culture wars of the United States, which have defined American politics for the last generation, if not two. That has been especially so since the election of Donald Trump.
With the Democrats questioning whether they’ve alienated white working-class voters by indulging in “identity politics,” no one seems to have noticed that Trump himself—with his nostalgic pitch to ageing white men—is the greatest identity politician of the lot.
It has become commentariat cliché to suggest that Brexit has revealed a great gulf between the educated, urban, liberal elite that holds sway at Westminster, and a great mass of “left behind” voters out in the country. If the caricature holds, it sounds very much like a culture war in the making. But does it?
There has been reporting and social research to explore why some things that are not seen as a problem in the liberal big cities—most notably immigration—are regarded with deep concern in many of the small towns that broke heavily for “Leave.” But social science is only just starting to probe whether “political correctness” has itself become as inflammatory in the UK as it has in the US.
Maria Sobolewska of Manchester University ran an experiment on people’s attitudes towards the ethnic diversity of London. She conditioned a sub-sample of respondents with the thought that being positive about diversity was a “politically correct” attitude to hold. Voters who were primed in that way were somewhat less likely to be warm about the capital’s multiculturalism, suggesting that “PC” has some charge as an anti-liberal message.
Focus groups for the think tank Demos found that talk of PC reliably “incensed participants.” They talked of the country being run by too many “do-gooders,” of feeling unable to “stand up” and state their views plainly for fear of being judged, and of feeling like “they are standing on eggshells.”
These participants, however, were white and mostly over 55. What there has not been until now is any comprehensive, representative polling on “the war of the words,” a contrast with the US where right-wing think tanks endlessly poll on how “cramped by political correctness” many “ordinary Americans” feel.