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Building on CaSE’s public opinion data: Exploring terminology, timeframes and political priorities 

05 Dec 2023

Throughout the Discovery Decade project, one question we’ve been asked – and asked ourselves – time and again is how we should talk about the work the sector does.

Today we’re publishing new data exploring in more detail attitudes to different terms, along with attitudes to research’s timeframes, whether research should be a political priority ahead of the next General Election and views on spillover benefits to the economy, education or jobs.

At the heart of the Discovery Decade is understanding what the public thinks and feels about the work that comes under the broad umbrella of research. With the addition of our latest polling – which surveyed 2,050 people in October 2023 – we’ve now tested the opinions of more than 20,000 people across the UK, in five nationally representative polls and 14 focus groups. All of our polling was carried out by research agency Public First.


When it comes to terminology, the sector’s breadth and diversity can be a challenge as well as a strength. With different organisations working on different topics in different ways, we end up describing our sector’s work using a long list of words and phrases. For our public audiences, this risks creating terminology clutter, which obscures what we do, causing confusion and lowering cut through. 

We believe there is great value in creating a more united image in both the public and political eye. Building a narrative around common terminology will allow us to focus on what really matters to the public: how our work is helping them, their loved ones and their communities. 

Previous Discovery Decade surveys have tested a huge range of words and phrases, indicating that “Research and Development” is the best way to talk about the broad range of work we do, with the term “innovation” also performing well. Because of this, we focused this survey on two phrases the sector uses regularly: “Research and Development” and “Research and Innovation”. 

The results did not suggest a silver bullet. Both phrases performed well – we found similar levels of support for investment in R&D or R&I; similar attitudes to the importance of these skills in schools; and similar attitudes towards jobs and other spillover benefits.  

However, when given a choice between the two, three-quarters prefer Research and Development, and there are higher levels of awareness and familiarity the public has with this term. Respondents described it as being “easier to understand” and “more certain”, while questioning the need to “start changing the phrase for what is essentially the same thing”. 

As such, CaSE is recommending that, wherever possible, those talking about all types of research use R&D – spelled out in full on first use – as an overarching and consistent term to help connect the sector’s work together. We believe R&D is broad enough to encompass many aspects of the research system, but recognise that we all have work to do to further define and expand this phrase in the public’s mind, so it works well for all of us. Our research suggests that this is both realistic and achievable. 

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Read more about these results in Terminology



Our new polling also explored the impact of time lags on support for R&D, and suggests that longer timeframes are not a blocker to public support. 

While there was a more positive reaction to R&D with shorter timeframes to results, 49% of respondents still felt research that would take 25 years would be worthwhile to invest in. When framed around specific subjects, we saw that the shorter timelines were more desirable for nearer-term problems, such as the cost of living, where 27% said that R&D that would take 25 years would be worth investing in.  

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Read more about these results in the sections on Timeframes and R&D’s relevance to outcomes in Issues 


Political priorities 

CaSE – along with colleagues across the sector – is increasingly focusing on the coming General Election, and we used this poll to understand the public’s priorities. We found that more than half of people (58%) think that funding R&D should be a high priority for UK political parties – however fewer people believe that it is a priority for either of the country’s largest parties (39% for Labour and 38% for the Conservatives). 

The issues the public believes should be top of politicians’ agendas are bringing down the cost of living and helping the NHS. Our previous polling has shown a large proportion of the public think research is either essential or important to address both these issues. 

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Read more about these results in the section Attitudes to political parties’ support for R&D in Investing in R&D

Investing in R&D

Support for local research 

Our latest polling further demonstrates support for research at a local and regional level. Building on questions in previous polling, we found that: 

  • A majority (70% of 1,094) would support a proposal to build a new laboratory for carrying out R&D on their nearest high street 
  • Two thirds (67% of 1,094) would like to see more R&D carried out in their local area 
  • 35% said they would prefer new jobs in R&D to be in their area rather than other parts of the UK 
  • The biggest perceived benefits to having local R&D were more jobs (57%), improvements to the local economy (50%) and having local people involved as participants (44%)

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Read more about these results in the section Opinions on global, regional and local level benefits in Benefits of R&D

Benefits of R&D

Attitudes to investment, education, skills, and R&D messengers 

Elsewhere in the polling, we asked questions to explore other issues, finding: 

  • 64% (of 1,094) said that R&D jobs were important, 60% said they were interesting and 32% said they were well-paid. Older people tended to see them in a more positive light than younger groups, with 41% of respondents aged 65+ describing R&D jobs as prestigious compared to 18% of respondents aged 18-24. 
  • 27% (of 1,094) said R&D skills were among the most important skills for children learn, and 55% said they were important but that other skills were more important. 
  • 58% (of 1,094) said research institutes would be best able to talk about how R&D in the UK worked, 54% said the same for universities, followed by 36% for the Government, 29% for the NHS and 26% for large businesses 
  • 44% said they would support Government action to make the UK a global leader in AI, in contrast with 71% who would support action to make the UK the best place for a company to set up a research department 
  • 36% saying they would not trust either party when responding to the rise of AI 

Read more about these results in Benefits of R&D, Messengers and Issues