Can the ‘downward spiral’ of material conditions, mental health and faith in government be stopped? Evidence from surveys in ‘red wall’ constituencies

Matthew Johnson*, Elliott Johnson, Howard Reed, Daniel Nettle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


If policy preferences follow material interests, the experience of socioeconomic disadvantage ought to increase support for redistributive policies. However, experiencing disadvantage might also reduce faith in government’s ability to make things better, indirectly reducing support for redistributive action, and leading to a spiral of widening disadvantage and increasing political disengagement. Indeed, disadvantaged communities sometimes favour right-wing platforms over those offering redistribution, as in the taking of ‘red wall’ constituencies in the North and Midlands of England by the UK Conservative party in 2019. This article uses quantitative data from a survey of ‘red wall’ voters (n=805) to examine the bases of people’s perceptions of redistributive policies. We find that even a radical redistributive policy, Universal Basic Income (UBI), receives consistently high levels of support (69.45 s.d. 27.24). Lower socioeconomic status, greater financial distress and greater risk of destitution all increase support. These effects are partly mediated by mental distress, which is markedly higher among the less well off. However, the same socioeconomic factors also reduce faith in government, which in turn is associated with lower support. Thus, those who stand to benefit most from redistribution are aware of their material interests, but are also the least confident in the ability of government to improve their lives. As such, there is a clear political challenge for progressive politicians: those whose support they depend upon require a significant redistributive offer, but also need to be persuaded of the viability of reform to support progressive change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number136914812211468
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Early online date10 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2023


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