Friday, July 01 2016

DEMOS report looks ‘inside the EDL’

 Following the recent publication of two reports looking at the EDL and the rise of the far-right in the UK (see here and here), the think-tank DEMOS has published a report looking at the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of the EDL’s supporters on social networking sites.

Entitled, ‘Inside the EDL: Populist politics in a digital age', the report comprises responses from 1295 sympathisers and supporters, including data on their “demographics, involvement in EDL activity, political attitudes and social views.”
Jamie Bartlett, the author of the report, describes the EDL as afacebook group with a militant wing”, and argues that most of the EDL’s activity takes place online.

DEMOS conducted surveys using an online sample recruited through the EDL’s Facebook supporters. Some of the key findings of the report include:

•    EDL supporters are “disproportionately likely to be out of work: A significant percentage of supporters are unemployed – although this is especially true of older supporters. Among 16–24-year-old EDL supporters, 28 per cent are unemployed, compared with a national average of 20 per cent for the same age group. Among 25– 64-year-olds, 28 per cent of EDL supporters are unemployed, compared with a national average of 6 per cent.

•    Immigration is the biggest concern among EDL supporters: Although the group’s leaders claim Islamic extremism is the EDL’s primary raison d’etre, supporters appear to care more about immigration: 42 per cent consider immigration one of the top two issues facing the country, with 31 per cent citing Islamic extremism.

•    The BNP is the most popular political party among EDL supporters: Although members of the BNP are not officially welcome at EDL demonstrations, 34 per cent of EDL supporters vote for the BNP.

•    Supporters have low levels of ‘social capital’ and high levels of pessimism: Only 32 per cent of EDL respondents, compared with 55 per cent for the general population as a whole, agreed with the statement ‘in general, people can be trusted’, which is considered to be a good proxy measure for social capital. The group is also extremely pessimistic about the future, compared with the general public.

•    Supporters join the EDL because of a combination of opposition to Islam or Islamism, and to preserve national and cultural values: Nearly half (41 per cent) of supporters claim to have joined the EDL because of their views on Islam. While some directed abuse at all Muslims, others made more nuanced criticisms, condemning ‘political Islam’ and ‘Muslim extremists’. A large number cited a love of England, commitment to preservation of traditional national and cultural values, and representation of the interests of ‘real’ British countrymen (31 per cent) as their reason for joining. In many cases this amounted to a defence of liberal values from perceived outside forces such as Islam. It is of interest that no one cited immigration as an important reason for joining the group, although it is the biggest concern facing members.

The Report’s recommendations include engaging with the EDL’s supporters and addressing wider issues that contribute towards their sense of disenfranchisement and exclusion including joblessness, immigration and low levels of trust in political institutions.

The report states:

“The EDL appears to be symptomatic of a new brand of loosely nationalist movements across Europe, which finds common cause in opposing a perceived Islamification of secular liberal and Christian societies. These groups lay claim to the mantle of the enlightenment, espousing support for fundamental liberal values of free speech, democracy and equality, which they seek to defend from the threat of Islam … There is little doubt that the EDL contains some racist and openly anti-Islamic elements – but this is by no means true of all supporters. The task ahead is to engage with those who are sincere democrats, and isolate those who are not.

“Anti-Islam and anti-Islamist sentiment is an important, but not the primary, concern among supporters. Any concerted effort to limit the group’s support would therefore require addressing a much broader set of concerns about immigration, joblessness, pessimism and a general decline in social capital and trust in political institutions. These challenges transcend single groups like the EDL, but unless they are dealt with, groups like the EDL will continue to grow.”

You can read the full report here.

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