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UK public want political parties to make research funding a priority ahead of the General Election

05 Dec 2023

Almost 60% of people think that funding R&D should be a high priority for UK political parties, but only two-fifths believe it is currently a high priority for either Labour or Conservative parties, according to new polling.

Data released today from the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) demonstrates public appetite for more political focus on R&D, supporting CaSE’s call for the next Government to commit to long-term research funding as the country heads into a General Election year.

The polling, carried out as part of CaSE’s Discovery Decade programme by research agency Public First in October 2023, also 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.

Some 58% of 2,050 respondents said that funding research in the UK should be a high or top priority for political parties in the UK. However, when asked how much of a priority R&D was for the two largest UK-wide parties, just 38% said it was a high or top priority for the Conservatives and 39% said the same for Labour.

The latest polling builds on CaSE’s significant dataset exploring public attitudes to R&D, which has now surveyed more than 20,000 people over the last 18 months. This has shown that many people believe that R&D has an important role to play in tackling issues like the cost of living, climate change and improving the NHS.

“Political parties are busy developing their policies for the General Election next year. Our new polling shows that a majority of the public view funding R&D as a political priority, and that almost three-quarters would welcome more R&D on their high street.

“With neither Labour nor the Conservatives securing a lead on R&D in voters’ minds, both parties have an opportunity to put R&D at the centre of their strategy for tackling the issues that matter to voters, from the cost of living to sustainable public services.”

Dr Ben Bleasdale
Director, Discovery Decade, CaSE

Elsewhere in the polling, CaSE found:

  • Just under half believe that supporting research into new medicines in the UK is a priority for Labour and Conservatives, (48% and 47%, respectively); compared with 74% who believe it should be a priority for UK political parties.
  • More than half were unsure which party to trust when it came to responding to the rise of AI: 36% said they would not trust either the Conservatives or Labour on the matter, while 22% said they didn’t know.
  • A majority (71% of 2,050) would support the Government taking action to make the UK the best place for a company to set up a research department
  • Almost half of people (49% of 2,050) think that the UK used to lead the world in research but no longer does

Ahead of the General Election, CaSE has set out four priorities for the new Government:

  • Commit to a long-term plan for investment in R&I
  • Support skills for science and engineering
  • Build on regional R&I strengths
  • Support business R&I investment

Read the full discussion of the political-focused questions in our October survey:

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Read our analysis of the wider results of the October survey:

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Read all of the results from our major piece of Public Attitudes to R&D research:

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Download the full dataset