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Segmenting our Audiences

How can we use the attitudes that people share to better understand our audiences?

As part of our analysis of the larger July 2022 poll data, we produced an attitudinal segmentation which splits respondents into 5 groups based on their awareness of R&D and various attitudes which tend to correlate with support for R&D investment.  

More information on the process used for producing these segments can be found in the Methodology section.  

This section uses quantitative data from our July 2022 polling, along with qualitative data from our focus groups. 


Guide to interpreting this data

Why segment our sample?

Attitudinal segmentations allow us to group quantitative respondents into “clusters” with other participants who are like them in how they answer a range of questions. A segmentation can divide up the sample, maximising both the similarity within each “segment” and the differences between segments, while also producing segments which have meaningful and useful qualitative interpretations. 

Grouping people by their reactions to questions and issues relating to R&D investment, rather than using purely demographic factors (e.g. age, location, education), can help us design campaigns and messages that target audiences across demographic lines.  

As an example, we have found that a person’s formal educational attainment consistently predicts them having a positive response to discussion around R&D investment. Therefore, we might choose to build a campaign that targets people with specific formal education levels, or through Universities as messengers. Alternatively, we could define a group of people by a specific attitude, rather than a demographic factor, for example people who are more inclined to prioritise long-term issues over immediate issues. These individuals might be spread across several demographic groups, but are united by a shared attitude. This could produce very different conclusions about how best to approach a campaign, what messages to offer, and where to reach these individuals. 

Segmentations like this one are as much of an art as they are a science. There are many ways to split quantitative opinion data and to interpret the resulting segments, such that different analysts making different segmentation decisions could end up with entirely different conclusions from the same set of data. Below is just one suggestion about how the data could be divided. 

Overview of the attitudinal segments

Ideologically Aligned (16%)

The Ideologically Aligned group are the most engaged people on the issue of R&D in the UK. Many have personal backgrounds or interest in the results of research, and their priorities tend to align with those we would expect of someone who would support Government investment into R&D. This group are more likely to have completed a graduate degree and tend to be in the higher income brackets and socioeconomic grades.

ABC1: 71%

Graduates: 56%

Under 35: 30%

Over 65: 16%

Remain vote: 64%

80% say that taxpayers money should go towards funding R&D

78% support an increase in R&D investment after hearing arguments

82% say they know a lot or moderate amount about R&D

“The problems we have today weren’t born today, they are products of things that we have or haven’t done in the past. To help our economy and develop as a country, we need to invest in research and development now, so that we don’t make the same mistakes as in the past.”

Female, 26, Manchester

Future Focussed (21%)

The Future Focussed group tend to be relatively aware of R&D, but claim to know less about it than others. What sets them apart is a tendency to focus on the future, coupled with a general disinterest in new discoveries and technology. This contrasts with the Present Focussed group, who have similar levels of engagement with R&D, but who tend to focus on present-day issues. The Future Focussed group lean older and tend to be Remain voters.

ABC1: 61%

Graduates: 40%

Under 35: 37%

Over 65: 25%

Remain vote: 50%

55% say that taxpayers money should go towards funding R&D

41% support an increase in R&D investment after hearing arguments

34% say they know a lot or moderate amount about R&D


“At the end of the day, a pound invested today in the future is probably got to be worth far more for our children and our children’s children effectively.”

Male, 64, Derby

Present Focussed (20%)

The Present Focussed group are similarly aware of R&D and are distinguished by their tendency to focus on present-day issues and issues which affect the UK specifically, over those which impact the whole world. This segment tended to vote Conservative in 2019

ABC1: 56%

Graduates: 39%

Under 35: 35%

Over 65: 20%

Remain vote: 35%

50% say that taxpayers money should go towards funding R&D

46% support an increase in R&D investment after hearing arguments

75% say they know a lot or moderate amount about R&D

“I’ve been on the railway 23 years and some of the kit that we first started with, high vis, helmets and so on wasn’t fit for purpose. You’d put a hard hat on but it was quite a big one and you’d bang your head if you’re working under a train because you can’t see above the rim. Now, R&D has, over the years, produced better kits, shorter rims, tighter fit certain types of goggles that don’t steam up, warmer equipment, clothing that dries if you get wet, it dries almost straight away. So, R&D is always going to be a thing, we’re always going to need it. I’m happy to fund R&D, I’m happy the country funds R&D for the reefs and the forests and so on. If it makes the world a better place, every country should”

Male, 56, Derby

Issue Driven (22%)

The Issue Driven group tend to prioritise the core issue which R&D is solving, rather than the R&D process itself. This segment is quite fragile in their support for R&D. For example, this group would support both cutting R&D budgets to fund mental health services, and increasing R&D budgets if the research was into mental ill-health prevention. The Issue Driven lean much younger than other groups.

ABC1: 43%

Graduates: 28%

Under 35: 67%

Over 65: 16%

Remain vote: 35%

21% say that taxpayers money should go towards funding R&D

29% support an increase in R&D investment after hearing arguments

28% say they know a lot or moderate amount about R&D

“I think it would need to be a specific thing that we’re putting [money] into, where we could see the benefits, costs, and what it would do going forward. People don’t mind putting money into something if they can see the benefits.”

Female, 36, Mansfield

Ideologically Conflicted (21%)

The Ideologically Conflicted group tend to be the most opposed to investing in R&D. This group has lower awareness of R&D and places greater importance on solving the present-day problems facing the UK. After hearing arguments in favour of R&D investment, over half of this segment still say they would cut R&D budgets if it would reduce Government borrowing. This group leans slightly older, and includes those who are less financially comfortable.

ABC1: 38%

Graduates: 17%

Under 35: 30%

Over 65: 23%

Remain vote: 27%

14% say that taxpayers money should go towards funding R&D

9% support an increase in R&D investment after hearing arguments

9% say they know a lot or moderate amount about R&D

“We’ve got so many problems in this country at the moment. It’s almost like a luxury to fund R&D at this moment. It would be nice to think that we can put other areas that the government oversees in order before we start spending money on possible, probable, maybes and maybe nots.”

Female, 63, Mansfield

How the segments differ

Key takeaways

  • There are several demographic, political and awareness trends across the five segments
  • Ideological alignment plays a role in support for R&D investment, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for that support

The three segments which were most receptive to messages and arguments about R&D (the Ideologically Aligned, Future Focussed and Present Focussed) were also those with the greatest levels of prior awareness and engagement with R&D. For these segments, prior awareness of the phrase “R&D” was over 60%, compared to under 20% for other two segments. 

When we look at the various ways that people could engage with R&D we find that people in these three segments, and particularly the Ideologically Aligned group, tend to have more extensive engagement with R&D than others. 

There are some exceptions to this trend; Future Focussed people tend to have a more muted response to specifically new discoveries and are less likely than Issue Driven people to talk about new discoveries with their friends and family. However, the segmentation generally reveals that a significant portion of the public are highly disconnected from R&D and would be challenging to reach with a campaign. 

Initial resistance to taxpayer funding of R&D tends to be concentrated among the Issue Driven and Ideologically Conflicted, where 36% and 41% respectively agree that R&D should not be funded by taxpayers. 

To some extent, the segmentation reflects a sliding scale of awareness and support for R&D investment. Where we have previously found demographic relationships with R&D awareness and support, these too tend to move linearly across the segments.  

While this is a useful heuristic to interpret the segments, it is not a consistent rule. The Future Focussed and Present Focussed segments, for example, are very similar on measures including awareness and support for investment in R&D, but different on others such as politics. We also find a notable exception among the Future Focussed group when it comes to new discoveries, with this segment tending to be some of the least engaged and aware of new discoveries in daily life. 

Ideological stances, particularly around the prioritisation of future or present issues, were a key part of this attitudinal segmentation. Segments which prefer to prioritise immediate and UK-focussed problems tend to be those most inclined to oppose R&D investment. 

But the segmentation illustrates a key exception to this in the Present Focussed group, who have an ideological preference for focussing on the UK and the present-day, but also initially feel that R&D should be funded by taxpayers, and after hearing various arguments show high levels of support for increasing R&D investment (46% support an increase, only 7% want a decrease). 

Further, even at the “extreme” ends with the Ideologically Aligned and Conflicted groups, we do not find total support or total opposition. While the Ideologically Aligned are consistently the most supportive of Government investment in R&D, a fifth are neutral or agree that taxpayer money should not fund R&D at the start of the survey. After hearing arguments for R&D, only 22% of the Ideologically Conflicted would decrease Government investment in R&D, with a plurality opting to keep levels as they are now (45%) or expressing uncertainty (24%). 

This also came across in focus groups where participants were placed into the segments on the basis of a short pre-focus group questionnaire. While some segment groups aligned with expectations, particularly on awareness levels, there were numerous exceptions. These included Ideologically Aligned participants expressing concern about future-focussed R&D investment, and Ideologically Conflicted participants expressing strong support for R&D investment. 

Application of the segments

Key takeaways

  • The five attitudinal segments provide a useful tool for understanding how different language and messages are received
  • When R&D is linked to a specific issue, the segments respond very differently according to the issue in question
  • While some messengers perform better with some segments over others, the top-performing messengers tend to be consistent across the segments
  • The segmentation analysis indicates that some advocacy approaches may be effective across groups with very different attitudinal outlooks to R&D
  • We would expect that using terms such as “Research & Development” or “Science”, focussing on the benefits to jobs and the future of investment, and linking R&D tightly to the environment and healthcare would help messages to reach the broadest audience

Our polling data indicates that across the population, “Research & Development” and “Science” perform strongest as descriptions of what the UK invests in. The segmentation shows that “New Discoveries” and “Innovation” perform equally well among the Ideologically Aligned group, but slightly less well among the other segments. For the Ideologically Conflicted group, the “New Discoveries” phrasing was rated considerably less important than “Research & Development”. 

Generally, the range of pro- and anti-R&D messages we tested cut through similarly across the segments, but there were some differences. The argument framed around the idea the UK has “always been the home of new discoveries” performs particularly poorly with the Ideologically Aligned and Future Focussed groups versus the other positive messages tested. We can also see how distinct the Ideologically Aligned and Ideologically Conflicted groups tend to be from other segments on the positive arguments. For the Ideologically Conflicted, the argument that there are “more pressing issues the Government should be investing in” clearly outperformed all of the positive arguments. 

Our polling tested how support for either cutting or increasing R&D investment changed when this choice was linked to a specific issue – such as the military or NHS.    

Depending on the issue in question, the segments reacted very differently. Among Ideologically Aligned, support for increasing R&D funding drops from 86% when the R&D is for new ways to generate clean energy to just 40% if the R&D is creating new and better security and military technologies.  

Generally, the Ideologically Conflicted group show greater support for cutting R&D funding versus increasing it, although linking it to environmental and house-building issues were an exception. For Issue Driven respondents, the issue in question was of greater significance than the choice to increase or decrease R&D funding, leading to examples where the Issue Driven segment show more support for cuts to R&D than the Ideologically Conflicted, such as when the link is to mental health services. 

Demonstrating the broad fragility of R&D support when set against popular issues, only the Ideologically Aligned group tend to oppose cutting R&D funding to spend the money on recruiting more doctors and nurses. 

Cancer Research UK and David Attenborough are consistently the most trusted messengers from our testing, ranging from 82% to 51% and 86% to 56% trust respectively among Ideologically Aligned and Ideologically Conflicted groups. A trusted messenger has a huge impact on the message among the segments which tend to be most opposed to R&D investment.  

For the Ideologically Aligned group, the lowest rate of agreement was with the economic message put forward by Siemens (66%), and this increased to 90% with the environmental message from David Attenborough. For the Ideologically Conflicted, only 11% agreed with the economic message from a group of local businesses, but this increased to 43% with the healthcare message from CRUK.  

As we might expect, there is a tendency for the Issue Driven and Ideologically Conflicted segments to be slightly more sceptical about a campaign led by those working in research, but neither segment contains a majority feeling that researchers would be unable to make a convincing case. In fact, for all except the Ideologically Conflicted group, a majority believe that researchers could make a convincing case. The same cannot be said for businesses, which the Ideologically Conflicted group tend to argue could not make a convincing case, while the Future Focussed group are divided. 

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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