Swing Voters and the Electoral Significance of Foreign Aid: A Study in Conservative-Lib Dem Marginals

Swing Voters and the Electoral Significance of Foreign Aid: A Study in Conservative-Lib Dem Marginals

Published today, this report contributes new evidence to the understanding of public attitudes towards foreign aid, including areas open to both policy and political influence, and highlights the potential electoral significance of international development in marginal seats of current and future importance in the UK’s political landscape.

The report is focused on public opinion in 30 seats in England, which are closely contested between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.


Although Britons in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats largely support the decision to temporarily reduce international development spending, they also recognise the moral and strategic value of the UK’s aid investments. The enduring political commitment over the past decade to remain one of the world’s leading aid donors has formalised and embedded this issue within the public consciousness.

45% of citizens in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats believe that Britain has a moral obligation to help the world’s poorest people, even when our own economy is going through a difficult time.

While international development may not always be considered as fundamental as other foreign policy and security investments, it remains a point of pride and identity for many Britons.

When asked which emotion best sums up the UK’s commitment to being a world leader in international aid, the largest single group of respondents say they feel pride (25%).

Although the coronavirus pandemic has evidentially sharpened minds about the scarcity of state resources, it has also drawn attention to the connectivity we share as part of the global community, and the fact that poor health outcomes can compromise the security of all people.

64% of citizens in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats surveyed believe human rights and values are universal, and that those living in the poorest parts of the world ultimately share the same hopes and dreams as we do. And 70% believe the pandemic has highlighted how the health and well-being of the world’s citizens affects us all.

There is a very clear sentiment expressed throughout the results that Britons in these seats want the nation to stand in the ‘middle of the pack’ amongst our allies – they are more responsive to ideas of us being part of a community of leading democracies than being ‘world-leading’ ourselves.

46% of citizens in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats believe we should spend the same as our allies do on international aid, compared to 17% who believe we should spend somewhat more, and 13% who believe we should spend somewhat less.

There are clearly significant gaps in both knowledge, interest and support for many aspects of the UK’s foreign aid and development programmes. In particular, there is a lack of understanding of development’s strategic importance to the UK’s broader foreign policy, security and economic objectives.

In the Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats surveyed, just 27% of citizens feel informed about where the UK’s aid and development projects are directed and the outcomes of these investments.

There is a significant opportunity presented by this research to champion an educational campaign that better reflects the transformative, empowering nature of the UK’s international development investments, and their tangible contribution to our collective global security, prosperity and well-being.


Other Key Findings

  • Citizens in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats would most like Britain to be seen as ‘responsible’ and ‘dependable’, followed by ‘industrious and hard-working’, then as ‘playing by the rules’ and ‘open’.
  • The sense of the nation is therefore formed with an eye to the global community and constituted by our steadfast, authentic relationships with other nations. Our openness and connectivity are seen as strengths, as is our entrepreneurial spirit and intellectual capital.
  • 57% of citizens in these seats think the UK should lead by example as a ‘force for good’ in the world.
  • When forming views about their political choices and affiliations, policies on climate change (39%), defence and security (39%) and international trade (38%) are the highest-priority foreign policy issues for citizens in Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seats.
  • When briefed about the competition that has been fostered around access to vaccines and the vacuum that has opened up for the UK’s strategic rivals such as Russia and China to provide these scarce resources to the developing world, the majority of citizens in these marginal constituencies recognise that this poses a risk to the UK’s own interests (63%).
  • But the largest plurality (47%) of respondents believe the UK should encourage our allies to help provide vaccines for the developing world alongside us, so we solve the problem together, rather than leading the response on our own.

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online by the pollsters Opinium Research between 1 April – 13 April 2021, capturing a sample of 50 respondents for each of the 30 seats. The total sample size was 1,500 respondents. The sample was then weighted to be socially and politically representative within those seats. Please note that the survey itself is not nationally representative, as it only focuses on a select number of seats.

The seats surveyed as part of this project include: Wimbledon, Carshalton and Wallington, Cheltenham, Winchester, Cheadle, Lewes, Esher and Walton, South Cambridgeshire, Guildford, Cities Of London and Westminster, St Ives, Eastbourne, Hazel Grove, Finchley and Golders Green, Hitchin and Harpenden, Brecon and Radnorshire, Wokingham, Sutton and Cheam,  South West Surrey, Harrogate and Knaresborough, Woking, Wells, Romsey and Southampton North, Chelsea and Fulham, Chippenham, South East Cambridgeshire, Taunton Deane, Mole Valley, Montgomeryshire, Thornbury and Yate, Tonbridge and Malling.



BFPG Admin