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Ipsos MORI Expenses Poll for the BBC

Published:2 June 2009
Fieldwork:29-31 May 2009
Sub-Theme:Trust in Government
Keywords:Expenses, Governmental system, MPs/MP/MSP/AM/MEP, Trust
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Ipsos MORI research for the BBC (carried out by telephone between 29-31 May among 1,001 British adults aged 18 and over) explores public attitudes to MPs and political institutions, and examines the public's views towards possible options for reform.

From our long-term trend data we know politicians are generally not seen as trustworthy by the British public. However, in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal, views towards MPs' motives are more negative than at any other time we have measured this before (62% now believe that MPs put their own interests first, compared to 45% believing this in 2006), and only one in five (20%) trust MPs generally to tell the truth. Having said that, four in five (80%) also agree that "it is not just politicians who are at fault for the expenses scandal. Our parliamentary system is to blame".

So while there is certainly a lot of anger at MPs over the scandal (68% agree that 'most MPs make a lot of money by using public office improperly'), there is also a sense that the system is to blame as well -- and that not all MPs are guilty (three in ten [30%] believe that just a 'few' or no MPs use their power for their own personal gain). Further, the public tend to be more positive towards their local MP than towards MPs in general. While more than three-quarters (76%) do not trust MPs in general to tell the truth, this falls to 44% who distrust their own local MP.

Further details from the poll are below:

  • While three in four (75%) believe that the present system of governing Britain needs a lot of improvement, a quarter (24%) believe that it at least mainly works well. This is the most negative rating of the system of governing Britain that we've recorded since 1995.
  • One in five (20%) of the public are satisfied with the way that Westminster Parliament is doing its job, a drop of 25 points since we last asked this question in 2001. Almost two in three (63%) are dissatisfied with the Westminster Parliament, up from 30% in 2001. Similarly, 71% are now dissatisfied with the way the House of Commons is doing its job and half (50%) feel the same way about the House of Lords, with 15% and 23% respectively satisfied.
  • Much of the public hold a negative view about MPs. Three in five (62%) think that MPs put their own interests ahead of the interests of their party, constituents and country, which again is the highest score we've ever recorded for this measure, comparing with 45% taking this view in 2006. Only five per cent think that MPs put their country first and seven per cent think they put their constituents first. In contrast, half (52%) think that MPs should put their country first and over two in five (43%) think MPs should put their constituents first.
  • Three-quarters (76%) do not trust MPs in general to tell the truth. One in five (20%) trust MPs in general to tell the truth, and more than double this number (50%) trust their own local MP to tell the truth. Slightly fewer of the public (44%) do not trust their local MP to tell the truth.
  • Two in three (68%) believe that half or more MPs use power for their own personal gain (and 40% think most or all do), which compares to 46% believing the same in 2006. Half of the public (48%) believe half or more of MPs are corrupt. One in three (33%) think that half or more MPs own up when they make mistakes, though half (47%) think only a few do and about one in five (18%) think none does.
  • Two in three (68%) think that most MPs make a lot of money by using public office improperly (46% thought this in 1985, and 64% in 1994), and 37% believe that most MPs have a high moral code (and 58% disagree that they do). This is nevertheless more positive than in 1994, when 28% felt that most MPs have a high moral code.
  • However, most of the public agree that it is the system to blame for the expenses scandal, and not just politicians, with 80% taking this view.
  • In terms of how voters intend to react to this scandal at the next General Election, we asked voters to imagine that at the next election the candidate that they would normally vote for was a sitting MP who had been caught up in the expenses scandal. When asked if they would vote for this MP, or for another candidate from a different party who had not been caught up in the scandal, half (52%) say they would vote for a different candidate not caught up in the scandal, even if it meant voting against the party they want to win the election. Around one in three (36%) will still vote for their preferred party's candidate, even if it meant voting for an individual caught up in the expenses scandal.
  • We also asked the public about some ideas for improving public confidence in the political process. Six in seven (85%) support the idea of an independent judicial body scrutinising MPs' activities including expenses, and four in five (79%) support MP ‘recall', which would allow constituents to force by-elections. Three in five (59%) support a public inquiry to investigate expenses.
  • When asked about some ideas for specific modification to the system by which MPs are paid and can claim expenses, seven in ten (70%) support scrapping the expenses scheme and replacing it with an overnight allowance, and three in five (60%) support only retaining the expense system for those who live outside commuting distance of London. Fewer (30%) support scrapping the expense scheme and increasing MPs salaries. Nevertheless, most of the public support any future scheme that minimises expenses abuse, but still ensures that people from all walks of life can become MPs (84% support this).

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