Voters more likely to back an anti-Muslim party than reject it – poll

More people would support a political party that pledged to stop all immigration or promised to reduce the number of Muslims than one that encouraged multiculturalism, a survey conducted in the wake of the Olympics reveals.

Despite London 2012 being heralded as a celebration of a diverse society, the research suggests much of the electorate remains open to views traditionally associated with far-right groups.

The survey, conducted by YouGov with 1,750 respondents, found that 41% of people would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to stop all immigration, compared with 28% who said they would be less likely to support a group that promoted such policies.

In addition, 37% admitted that they would be more likely to support a political party that promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society, compared with 23% who said it would make them less likely.

Matthew Goodwin of the Extremis Project, an independent group monitoring extremism and terrorism that commissioned the research, said that, although Britain lacked a successful extremist political party, much of the public was susceptible to far-right ideology.

He said: “The results clearly point towards enduring public anxieties over the performance of mainstream political and business elites, immigration and also the role of Muslims and Islam in society.”

In Europe, far-right parties have gained an increasing foothold, with Marine le Pen’s National Front recently polling 6.5 million votes and a poll in Greece indicating that support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has grown to 10.5%, up from 7% at the last election. However, the fiercely anti-Islamic Freedom party of Geert Wilders won only 15 seats in last week’s Dutch elections, compared with its previous 24 seats.

The UK poll results suggest, however, that Britain may struggle to host far-right groups capable of such popularity, revealing a striking generational divide in attitudes towards multiculturalism. It found that large majorities of 18-to-24-year-olds rejected radical rightwing policies, with 60% saying that a party campaigning to halt all immigration would make them less likely to support it or that it did not matter to them.

Less than a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to halt all immigration, compared with more than half of those aged above 60. Similarly, 27% of the younger age group said they would vote for a party that campaigned to reduce the number of Muslims, compared with 49% of those aged over 60.

Goodwin, a lecturer at Nottingham University, said: “While we see further evidence of an emerging generation that is more tolerant towards – and accepting of – immigration and diversity, there remains clear potential for a party that … promises to halt immigration, reduce the number of Muslims and prioritise traditional British values over other cultures.”

Observer, 16 September 2012