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Messages and Messaging

What does and doesn’t resonate with the public when talking about R&D?

As advocates for R&D, we often draw on a familiar set of arguments to make our case. These arguments are typically effective with policymakers, but are they effective with the public?

To challenge any assumptions we carry and to understand which messages resonate with different audiences, we tested a range of arguments – both for and against R&D – and gauged how compelling they were to people. We explored commonly used themes for rationalising R&D investment, and asked people which aspects of R&D they wanted to hear more about. We also sought to understand the best way to describe the breadth of activities that sit under the umbrella of research, development and innovation.

This section uses quantitative data from our May 2022, July 2022. February 2023 and October 2023 polling, along with qualitative data from our focus groups.

Guide to interpreting this data


As advocates, we are often seeking a clear message that elicits a reaction or makes our audience feel a particular way. Understanding which messages work and which don’t around R&D was a fundamental part of our Discovery Decade study. 

This section first looks at what the public told us matters in R&D messaging, in their own words, based on focus group discussions. It then assesses the various arguments in favour of R&D investment, along with plausible arguments against it, to understand which are more and less effective. This includes a deeper dive into the value of international comparisons, an argument that is commonly used by R&D advocates but one that we found resonated less well with the public. 

Finally, we sought to understand how to translate these findings into real-world campaigns. Our May and July 2022 public attitudes research found that the best performing arguments in favour of R&D and R&D investment focused on problem-solving, personal benefit and improving things for the future or future generations. Based on this, we worked with the agency First Create The Media to develop and test two sets of messages – simple, shorter messages and more detailed, longer narratives – that could be used in campaigns to raise awareness of and action around R&D. We also tested a set of slogans, which are described in the Terminology section, and these results will all underpin our best practice guidance and a toolkit. 

What matters to the public in R&D messaging

Key takeaways

  • Many people welcomed the chance to discuss R&D when information was provided in a specific, relevant and jargon-free way
  • Seeing a personal connection – either through the issue being tackled or the location – can help people picture the benefits and value of R&D
  • Depictions of R&D that felt too vague, or unrealistically grand, were quickly dismissed and can even damage trust
  • Accountability is crucial, and people want to be reassured that money was being invested rather than disappearing into a “black hole”

In all 12 of our December 2022 focus groups – representing over 70 people – there was strong appetite to engage with the rationale behind different R&D projects and their benefits, including the potential risks and trade-offs. People enjoyed engaging with these questions, and welcomed specific, relevant and jargon-free information on the R&D in question.

A personal connection has a major influence on the messages which resonate with individuals, with participants keen to relate R&D projects to their own lives or local areas. In one group, the power of lived experience was specifically mentioned as an effective way to convince others of the benefits of R&D. When asked about where R&D happened, some struggled to see the relevance of R&D focussed on global problems if there wasn’t a clear link to their local area.

Participants were also keen to see examples of previous R&D successes, which they said would help convince them of the benefits of investing in R&D in the future. This included strong demand for specifics, to help people connect with the R&D being discussed.

In contrast, ideas that were seen as unfeasible or unspecific were quickly dismissed, and participants sometimes seized on a sense of uncertainty in the hypothetical research projects. Meanwhile, grand but nebulous goals such as “a world without fear of cancer” were treated with scepticism – and sometimes even seen as manipulative.

Across all 12 focus groups, there was a strong desire for accuracy, transparency and trustworthiness. In particular, there were concerns that long R&D timeframes could mean money disappearing into a “black hole”; so people wanted to be kept informed about progress.

Elsewhere in the Discovery Decade project we have worked with experts in engaging the public on topics related to R&D, many of which cover the issues discussed in this section; you can read the reports from our workshop series on the page Collating Best Practice.

Arguments for and against R&D

Key takeaways

  • People are receptive to messages about the importance, or lack of importance, of R&D
  • Pro-R&D arguments tend to feel more compelling to people, and those framed around jobs, education, future generations and life-saving projects are especially compelling
  • Among anti-R&D messages, the most compelling frame was when R&D was set against other “more pressing issues”
  • Some abstract messages were effective, but people welcomed the idea of combining abstract benefits with more tangible examples

Across our polling, we tested a range of arguments – both for and against R&D – to see how they resonated with different audience groups. In general, the strongest-performing arguments were those in favour of R&D but some arguments proved less effective, including those focused on international competition. Of the arguments against R&D, people felt most compelled by the argument that there were “other more pressing issues than R&D” that needed funding. These results were mirrored in focus groups, with many people speaking passionately about R&D being an investment for future generations, but others sharing their concerns about prioritising R&D over other urgent issues in society.

Our May 2022 poll asked people to rate the strength of individual arguments. The arguments in favour of R&D performed better than those against R&D, with those focused on healthcare, personal benefit and future generations rated as the strongest forms of argument for investing in R&D. In contrast, framing R&D in terms of “keeping up” with other countries, or arguing that the UK needed to take “calculated risks” proved less compelling.

Among the anti-R&D arguments, the most powerful framing was the idea that R&D is a luxury and “other issues are more pressing at the moment”.

Our July 2022 poll included a similar test of argument frames, specifically around investing public money into R&D. Again, the arguments for boosting R&D investment performed strongest, especially those about R&D investment generating opportunities for people and businesses, and its role in solving future problems. Among the arguments for cutting R&D investment, the strongest-performing argument was, again, framed around there being “more pressing issues” than R&D.

Looking across different demographics, men were more likely than women to rate the R&D-boosting arguments as stronger, while younger respondents were more likely to find the R&D-cutting arguments stronger compared to older groups. We also saw greater support for the R&D-boosting arguments among those in groups AB and C1, and those with degrees.

After hearing these arguments, some 34% of people felt that the Government should increase the amount of public money it invests in R&D, compared with 11% who thought it should decrease spending, and 40% who thought it should stay the same. The groups more likely to support increased investment were similar – men, those in group AB, and those with degrees.

Respondents were then shown another set of arguments, each setting out a different rationale for investing in R&D. Among these, the strongest-performing arguments were those framed around problem-solving, creating a better future and the exciting possibilities of R&D. Although all the arguments tested performed positively, the argument that the UK should be “leading the world” performed least strongly.

This question used a split sample and a paired methodology, allowing us to compare different messaging frames. Some frame pairings showed minimal difference, but those with the largest effect were that a future-focused argument was more effective than one celebrating the UK’s historic R&D strengths, and that an argument framed around the UK “not falling behind other countries” performed more strongly than an argument framed around the UK “leading other countries”.

Among the demographic trends, again we saw those in group AB, degree-holders and older respondents all being more positive towards these R&D arguments. Looking at a pair of framings which contrast a future-facing versus historical frame, 18-24 year olds viewed the ‘investing for future generations’ argument as much stronger than the argument that ‘the UK has a history of solving problems with R&D’. Female respondents found all the arguments less strong, but the gap narrowed for the argument that R&D helps us be ready for tomorrow’s problems.

Respondents were then asked, again, whether the Government should increase, decrease or maintain R&D spending. Some 46% said it should increase (versus 34% previously), compared with just 8% who said it should decrease (11% previously) and 37% who thought it should stay the same (40% previously). This suggests that positive messages about R&D can influence people’s support for Government investment into R&D. We discuss changing opinions on R&D investment in more detail in the Investing in R&D section.

In our February 2023 polling, we posed a series of statements seeking to understand people’s appetite for R&D as a national focus. These questions were posed after respondents were told that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, had declared that he wanted the UK to be the country where “the next great discoveries are made” and where ambitious scientists want to work.

We found that R&D had broad appeal as a national focus, with a majority saying the UK needed to be better at science and innovation (73%), that the UK needed to train more scientists and innovators (79%) and that being good at science and innovation was important for the UK’s future (83%). This appeal stretched across the political spectrum, with three-quarters of both Conservative and Labour voters agreeing with all of these statements.

In our May and December 2022 focus groups, we showed participants different R&D-related arguments to see how they described them in their own words. Participants described arguments about protecting the world for future generations as “bold”, “positive” and likely to bring other benefits like jobs.

Participants welcomed the idea of abstract arguments, such as benefiting future generations, also incorporating more tangible benefits, such as job creation. Similarly, participants actively sought out arguments that they felt covered multiple benefits when asked to prioritise arguments or hypothetical research proposals.

In our October 2023 polling we explored the impact of negative and positive framings for similar messages. Across the set of questions, we found the results were very close. 

Respondents were more likely to strongly agree with the negatively framed statement, “Some have said that if the UK does not invest in Research & Innovation today, we’ll be poorer as a country in the future” (22%) than the positively framed “Some have said that if the UK invests in Research & Innovation today, we’ll be richer as a country in the future” (16%). 

However, there was little difference between the proportion of respondents who said that a negatively framed argument – “Imagine that it was shown that not investing in R&I today would make the UK poorer in the future” – was a reason to invest more in R&I now (36%) than a positively framed one – “Imagine it was shown that investing in Research & Innovation (R&I) today would make the UK richer in the future” (35%). 

And when focused on three different issues – jobs, the economy and businesses – we found that the positive message works better for the former and the latter, while the economic message was more mixed. 

Respondents were: 

  • More likely to agree that if the UK invested in R&I there would be more jobs available (64%) than that if the UK invested less there would be fewer jobs available (52%) 
  • More likely to say that if the UK invested more in R&I new businesses would set up operations here (61%) than that if the UK invested less businesses would leave (52%) 
  • Only slightly more likely to say that if the UK invests less in R&I, its economy would fall behind other countries (62%) as that if the UK invested more, it would have a stronger economy (56%). This appears to be driven by the oldest in the sample, with 69% of this group agreeing with the negative and just 51% with the positive 

When given a list of potential arguments for investing in R&I, the majority of respondents viewed each argument as a compelling reason for the UK to invest more in R&I. The most compelling reasons were those framed around risk of future pandemics (67%), the risk of cyber attacks (67%) and the risk of global warming 62%). The comparatively weaker arguments include those focused on international competition, the rise of AI and the UK’s ageing population. 

The risk of cyber attacks or online spying from other countries performed notably well among the Present Focussed segment (with 80% saying this was a reason to invest more in R&I) and the least-receptive segment, Ideologically Conflicted (46%). Notably, younger people also felt this was compelling, and more so than the rise of Russia or China, or competing with the US.  

International comparisons

Emphasising the important difference between messaging aimed at the public and that aimed at politicians, our research suggests that international competition does not motivate the public as strongly as other reasons to invest in R&D. In general, the public appear more open to narratives framed around pride or UK leadership than competition or “beating” other countries. 

Key takeaways

  • Pro-R&D arguments framed around international competition do not resonate strongly with most people
  • Men, and people in group AB, are more likely to be motivated by aspects of international competition on R&D
  • Young people are more likely to agree that the UK doesn’t need to invest in R&D because it can benefit from the R&D done by other nations instead
  • Many people in focus groups viewed R&D as an inherently collaborative endeavour, with some labelling competition-based arguments for R&D as “blackmail”
  • We saw some expressions of national or local pride for R&D that could be built on, but R&D ranked fairly low in people’s view of the UK’s national strengths

Our May 2022 poll tested the strength of different arguments in favour of R&D investment, including one framed around international comparisons: “The UK is falling behind similar countries such as France and Germany in the amount invested in R&D. We need to boost our investment into R&D so we can keep up.” Some 47% of people felt this was a strong argument, compared with 19% who viewed it as weak. This gave a net score which ranked it as the weakest pro-R&D argument among the broad range we tested.

However, the international comparisons argument did appeal more to certain groups, including men (39% net score, versus 18% among women); those over 65 (net 42% versus 16% among 35-44s), and those in group AB (net 37% versus 21% among DE). There was a notable alignment with voting patterns, with Conservative voters (net 54%) finding it more appealing than Labour voters (net 20%).

In a separate question we found that men, older groups and those in group AB were more likely to feel it was a problem that “the UK invests less than France or Germany” into R&D. Overall, around half of respondents felt that it was a problem to some extent.

Results from our February 2023 polling supported the idea that young people are less motivated by the idea of international competition or national pride. Younger people are considerably less likely to believe that the UK is already well-known for science and innovation (46% among those aged 18-24, compared to 77% of those 65+). Moreover, 63% of 18-24s agreed with the statement, “I would like the UK to be known worldwide for its science and innovation” versus 88% of those over 65. For “I would like the UK to be the best in the world at science and innovation” these figures were 56% for 18-24s and 80% for over 65s.

Our larger, July 2022 poll tested two sets of competition-focused statements; the first that talked about the broader concept of international competition, and the second used named comparison countries.

Before seeing these statements, half the sample was told: “The UK invests less in R&D than France and Germany”. Overall, we found that this primer statement had little impact on people’s views.

The majority of respondents did not feel R&D was a competition between countries (61% for un-primed and 63% for primed). We also found a broadly neutral reaction to the statement “It is important to me that the UK invests more in R&D than similar countries”, with the single biggest group of respondents in each group (38% in each) neither agreeing or disagreeing.

Respondents felt it was important for the UK to be a world-leader in R&D, with around half agreeing, regardless of whether they saw the primer statement, compared with just over a tenth disagreeing. They also felt that it was important for the UK to invest in R&D, despite the fact that the UK benefits from R&D carried out elsewhere too.

Men, older people and those in group AB were more supportive of the UK being a world-leader in R&D, and in the UK investing more than similar countries. Meanwhile, women and older people were more likely to say R&D wasn’t a competition between countries. Younger people were less motivated by the argument that the UK should be world leader, and more likely to agree that the UK didn’t need to invest in R&D as it benefits from the R&D done by other countries. Voting patterns weren’t a big differentiator on these questions, with just slightly higher agreement among Conservative voters that the UK should be a world leader in R&D.

Arguments that pitted the UK against named competitor countries generated only shallow support. Net support did not pass 20% among any respondent groups shown the statements “The UK should invest more in R&D to catch up with countries like France and Germany”; “Falling behind France and Germany means that the UK will be worse off in the future” and “I feel disappointed that the UK invests less in R&D than France and Germany”.

For the statement “It does not matter that the UK invests less in R&D than France or Germany”, people were split: 34% agreed and 35% disagreed. Agreement was stronger among women than men (39% versus 31%); they were also less likely to say they felt “disappointed” by this statement. People in group AB and those over 65 were more likely to disagree with the statement, and much more likely to feel disappointed by it compared to people in group DE. Conservative voters were slightly more likely than others to say that lower R&D investment does not matter to them.

There was a similar disinterest – or even active dislike – for arguments framed around international competition in our December 2022 focus groups, with some participants describing such arguments as “blackmail” or “a threat”.

In contrast, many participants spoke unprompted about R&D being a global endeavour, with universities cited as particularly collaborative. In addition, participants quickly concluded that R&D carried out in one place would benefit other locations too, or expressed a sense of responsibility in the UK contributing to a wider pool of globally useful R&D. We discuss this more in the section Benefits of R&D.

Although framing R&D as a competition between nations does not appear to be motivating for most people, we still see signs that R&D messages can connect with feelings of pride in other ways. Some focus group participants spoke of their pride in the UK’s R&D history, agreeing that falling behind was a risk and that the UK should be proud of R&D since “history tells us that we’ve been great innovators”. These participants felt uneasy about relying on other countries for R&D, and felt that investment needed to keep pace. Our polling supports this, with support for statements about pride in Britain being “the home of new ideas and inventions” or pride in the UK’s researchers.

Similarly, in our July 2022 polling we asked respondents to describe examples of past or present R&D in their area in their own words, and 23% noted industrial research including the steel and car industries, and others giving specific businesses’ names.

A substantial proportion of people see R&D as a national strength of the UK, 25% of people in our May 2022 poll chose this option from a list. However, this ranks R&D lower than other national strengths, such as history and traditions (32%), culture (29%), UK businesses (26%) and UK economy and trade (26%).

The UK was seen as doing R&D much or somewhat better than other countries, such as France or Germany, by 40% of respondents in our May 2022 poll. This ranks lower than other strengths, such as history and traditions (58%), culture (53%), providing aid (50%), the military (48%), having an open and inclusive society (45%) and sports (43%).

Our October 2023 polling found that almost half of people think that the UK used to lead the world in research but no longer does. Some 49% felt this way, with those aged 55 and above more likely to believe this. Those planning to vote Conservative are most likely to think that the UK currently leads the world on research (25%), but more of this group still think the UK used to lead the world and no longer does. 

As discussed earlier, in Arguments for and against R&D, our October 2023 polling also found that arguments for investing in R&D because of the rise of Russia or China performed less well than other framings.  

Taken together with our wider findings about international comparisons, this suggests that the public are more open to a narrative framed around pride and leadership than competition or “beating” other countries, including when those countries are specifically named. 

Effective R&D messaging: Shorter messages

Key takeaways

  • The public responded positively to many of the ways in which the sector typically talks about R&D and its impacts 
  • The best performing statements were seen as clear, convincing and didn’t exaggerate R&D’s importance 
  • Statements that performed well included “building today’s ideas and tomorrow’s solutions” and “making a better future for all of us”
  • “Making life better” performed less well overall 

Campaign communications rarely have the luxury of space or time, and so it was important to test how the public responded to short statements about R&D. We developed eight statements that succinctly described the purpose of R&D in different ways and tested people’s reactions to them. These stated that “Research and Development is the best way of…  

  1. Future proofing the UK
  2. Solving tomorrow’s problems 
  3. Making a better future for all of us 
  4. Making life better 
  5. Providing the knowledge to take on tomorrow 
  6. Creating big ideas for a better world 
  7. Finding out what works 
  8. Building today’s ideas and tomorrow’s solutions 

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement (“Research and development is the best way of…[short message]”​), all received high levels of agreement. The highest was “finding out what works”, with 84% agreeing.  

For each of the statements, we then gauged how much it was seen as an honest description of what R&D does, whether it exaggerates R&D’s importance for achieving that goal, and whether there are better ways to achieve that goal other than through R&D.  

More than half of people thought that each of the statements was an honest description of what R&D does, with this proportion being highest (68%) for each of “Solving tomorrow’s problems”, “Providing the knowledge to take on tomorrow” and “Making a better future for all of us”. 

For each of the statements, around a third felt that they exaggerated how important R&D is. The statements that were least likely to be seen as exaggerations were “Today’s ideas and tomorrow’s solutions”, “Providing knowledge to take on tomorrow”, “Making a better future for all of us” and “Solving tomorrow’s problems”. 

When asked if they felt there were better ways – beyond R&D – to achieve each of the goals expressed in the statements, the public was fairly split between those who agreed, those who disagreed and those who were neutral. Some 34% said that there were better ways of “making life better” than R&D, and this was the highest proportion of all the statements. In contrast, 37% disagreed that there were better ways of “solving tomorrow’s problems” than R&D.  

Our earlier research emphasised the public’s appetite to know why R&D was being carried out, even when it was a long-term goal. Our February 2023 survey asked how clearly each of these statements described what investment into R&D is going towards. 

We found that “Today’s ideas and tomorrow’s solutions” was seen as the clearest description, with 73% saying they felt this was at least somewhat clear. “Making my life better” was seen as the least clear, with 42% saying it is clear compared with 52% thinking it isn’t. 

Using a MaxDiff analysis – where respondents rank options on a best-to-worst scale – we found that “Making a better future for all of us” was the most convincing way to describe R&D’s purpose. It is also the strongest across all of our segments. Notably, the statement “R&D is the best way of Finding out what works” was the least convincing way to describe the role of R&D, despite many people agreeing with the statement. “Making my life better” performed similarly badly, in particular among the Ideologically Aligned and the Future Focussed segments (more detail on how we have divided up our audiences through segmentation can be found in the Segmentation section).  

Effective R&D messaging: Longer narratives

Key takeaways

  • There was potential to communicate the purpose of R&D in each of the three framings we tested, which focused on: big problems facing the world, the idea that times are changing fast, and the fact that many people are struggling financially
  • Statements including those framed on building a future worth living in or that fixing big problems takes time and money are effective ways to counter realistic arguments against investing in R&D
  • Of all the economic arguments tested, we found that the logic-led and quantified statement “Every £1 we spend on research and development today returns £2 to the economy every year, forever” had the least cut through 

To understand which narrative elements worked we asked respondents how much they agreed with the statements overall as well as with certain parts of the statements and why they felt this. We found that all of the messages were popular, but the ‘changing fast’ message gained most agreement (80% agreed). This was also the most popular message among those we have previously identified as feeling less connection to R&D: younger respondents (72% agree) and people in socioeconomic groups C2 and DE (79% and 75% agree).  

After this, respondents were shown an argument against R&D investment, which focused on concerns identified in our previous research – that R&D is a luxury, that it doesn’t benefit society equally or that it is a waste of money. These arguments were put alongside a set of arguments in favour of R&D, to act as a counter. Through a series of ‘either/or’ questions, we identified which pro-R&D arguments were most effective at countering the different anti-R&D ones. 

The three statements and the anti-R&D arguments that were shown to each group are shown in the charts below, and respondents’ responses are discussed in more detail in this section. 

Changing fast

Some 81% of those who saw it agreed with the overall ‘changing fast’ statement. When broken down into its parts, we found higher levels of agreement with the statement that “The world is changing fast and we need to be ready for it” (85% agreed), followed by the idea that investing in R&D is how to build a future worth living in (80%) agreed. 

Of those who saw the ‘changing fast’ message, 67% found it motivating – rising to 78% for 25-34s – and 65% said they found it convincing.  

When asked to choose between the anti-R&D argument (focusing on the idea that funding for R&D to solve future problems is a luxury that should wait until money is less tight) or a pro-R&D counter to this point, the majority of respondents who saw the ‘changing fast’ message chose the pro-R&D statement, regardless of what that was. The most effective was “Investing in research and development is how we build a country and a future worth living in – not just now, but for our children and their children too”, which was chosen by 70%, compared with 22% who chose the anti-R&D argument. 

We then asked respondents which of the pro-R&D messages they found most and least compelling. The best performing message was the above argument focused on building a future worth living in. This argument was successful across all of the segments, although – as we would expect – the three segments that had higher awareness of R&D were more supportive.  

The least compelling argument overall was “Research and development will make life better for me and my family”. We found that the Present Focussed segment was less convinced by the argument that “We can protect the future by investing in research right now – tomorrow is too late”, while the Issue Driven segment are slightly more convinced than the other segments by the argument “It is important we invest money in research and development now to improve our children’s lives in the future”. 

Big problems

The ‘big problems’ message was the second most popular overall, with 77% of respondents who saw this message agreeing with it. When this message was broken down, 85% of respondents agreed with the statement that “we have some really big problems to solve, like climate change, healthcare, the cost of living crisis and much more”. This is compared with 71% who agreed with the idea that investing in R&D is the best way of figuring out what needs to be done to fix the problems facing the UK. 

Overall, a majority of respondents said they found the message convincing (70%), trustworthy (61%) and concerning (60%).  

Again, when this group of respondents were given a binary choice between the anti-R&D message that some money going towards R&D is wasted and a set of pro-R&D messages, the ones in favour of R&D were preferred. However, there was one message that appeared particularly most effective as a counter, that “Fixing problems like climate change won’t happen by magic – it needs time, money and effort to find solutions”, and was selected by 64% of respondents. 

This message was also ranked highest when asked which was the most compelling, and appealed to all segments – although the Present Focussed were less convinced by this message than the other segments. People in this segment were more likely to find the argument “Research and development has solved our problems in the past, is making progress now and will solve our problems in the future” compelling than any of the other segments. 

The least compelling argument was “It is important that we spend money on research and development to solve problems facing society”. 

Times are tight

Overall, 70% of respondents who saw the ‘Times are tight’ message agreed with it. Again, we saw a difference in the parts of the message that resonated, with 81% agreeing with the first part – “Times are tight. The UK economy is struggling, leaving many of us with little to spare” – and 59% agreeing that “It might seem like a luxury to spend money on research and development when there are so many other priorities right now”.  

Respondents were more likely to say they found the message convincing (61%), motivating (59%) and trustworthy (54%). (This is compared with 65% who found the ‘big problems’ message convincing, and 70% who found the ‘changing fast’ message convincing.) 

For testing this message, the anti-R&D argument was framed around R&D not benefitting ordinary people in the UK. When given a binary choice, the two most successful counter arguments referred to jobs; in contrast the weakest argument was a hypothetical return on investment argument “Every £1 we spend on research and development today returns £2 to the economy every year, forever”, which was favoured by 46% – the lowest across all arguments. 

When looking at the most and least compelling counter arguments for this group, the two that mentioned jobs performed much better than the others, with the one mentioning the cost of living crisis performing particularly well among the Ideologically Conflicted segment. 

Do attitudes change after seeing arguments and messages? 

After seeing the shorter and longer messages, all 4,053 respondents to this February 2023 poll were asked what they thought the main benefits of R&D investment would be, if any. The most popular choice was that it would benefit future generations (selected by 57%), followed by it growing the economy (41%), bringing more jobs today (34%) and solving the big problems facing the country (28%). These perceived benefits align strongly with the results from our May and July 2022 polls and December 2022 focus groups, where future generations, jobs, the economy and problem-solving were seen as the most likely and popular benefits of R&D.  

The messages that respondents had seen in the run up to this question does not appear to have had a clear influence on how they perceive the benefits of R&D, even where we might expect larger impacts – for instance, that those who saw the ‘big problems’ message selecting solving big problems – the significant differences we found were, at best, small. 

The main drawbacks were seen as increased cost to the taxpayer (selected by 49%), followed by that R&D would be risky and might not pay off (36%), that it would mean the country would go into more debt (30%) and that it would mean we couldn’t address the problems facing us today (22%). Again, these are similar to previous polling and focus groups, although in focus groups – where people gave their views unprompted – participants were more likely to mention current crises rather than national debt. Notably, only 10% thought there would be no downsides to increasing R&D investment. 

After the set of questions set out above in this section – at the end of this February 2023 poll – respondents were asked if they were more or less convinced that the UK should invest in R&D than at the start of the survey. The majority of respondents said that they were much or somewhat more convinced (57%), with this being higher for those in group AB (61%), men (60%) and – notably – 18-24s (61%).

Looking at the results by our segments, we found those in Ideologically Aligned and Present Focussed groups being more likely to say they were more convinced. Positively, a fifth (22%) of the group we have identified as being harder to reach – the Ideologically Conflicted segment – said they were more convinced that the UK should invest more in R&D than at the start of the survey; while almost half (46%) were neutral on the question.

We also found that the proportion saying they were more convinced was higher among those who had seen the ‘big problems’ (59%) or ‘changing fast’ (58%) messages than ‘times are tight’ (53%). 

When asked whether the UK should increase, decrease or keep the same the amount of money invested into R&D, a majority thought the UK should continue to invest the same in R&D (53%). We found that those in the Ideologically Aligned segment were more likely than any other segment to say they want the UK increase the amount it invests in R&D, with just over half (51%) feeling this way. At the other end of the scale, the Ideologically Conflicted were more likely to say they didn’t know (26%), although the majority of this group thought the UK should either maintain or increase R&D investment (54%) compared with 21% who thought the UK should decrease R&D investment.

Among those who want to see investment in R&D reduced, 50% say this is because other issues are more pressing at the moment and 40% say that R&D is a luxury we can’t afford right now.  Among those who are in favour of increasing spending on R&D, 57% said it was because it will help the economy and 56% to tackle problems in the future.   

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Knowledge of R&D
Benefits of R&D
Investing in R&D
Opportunities to Engage
Messages and Messaging
Visual Concepts
Segmenting our Audiences