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What do polls tell us about support for the Garden Bridge?

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Two surveys of Londoners’ views have produced very different findings. Chief executive of Ipsos MORI  Ben Page takes a closer look

Do Londoners support the Garden Bridge or not? Two different polling companies, Comres and Populus have undertaken surveys in the capital about the planned Thomas Heatherwick bridge. One shows that 78 per cent of Londoners are in favour. The other shows just 42 per cent in favour and 36 per cent opposed. Why the difference?

As with so many issues where there is low awareness, how you ask the question makes a huge difference – as does the information you present. It is also possible public opinion has shifted between the two surveys.  However, as the surveys ask about support in very different ways, we can’t be sure, and it is likely that question wording explains the difference.

One of the surveys helps us interpret the results – Comres shows that only one person in ten claims to know a great deal about the proposals, and many more have never heard of them (37 per cent).

Only one person in ten claims to know a great deal about the proposals

This low awareness means question wording will likely make a big difference to the answers.

The Comres survey asks about amenities in London, and what people want more or less of, and then goes on to ask whether the public support or oppose a new pedestrian footbridge over the Thames at Temple that ‘will include gardens and trees’. There is no mention of cost. With this short description, they get 78 per cent who are in favour (including many who have previously never heard of it, or presumably, indeed have never seen pictures of how it will look).

In contrast, the Populus survey tells people there will be ‘270 trees’ on it, that it will cost ‘£170 million with £60 million being paid for from public funds’. It then says there are supporters and opponents, and arguments for and against it, including the suggestion that money could be better spent on other things when councils face cuts, with arguments in favour being ‘employment opportunities’ and a ‘positive financial impact on local businesses’. They don’t say what these benefits will be worth. They then find this much lower level of support – 42 per cent versus 36 per cent opposed.

Which is ‘right’? Well – assuming the Populus ‘facts’ are accurate, then its rather more mixed findings are probably closer to the truth.  As people learn more, the cost is likely to put off some, especially those worried about the cuts to council services mentioned in the question (assuming the £60 million would be spent on council services if not on the bridge). On the other hand, seeing detailed pictures could have a different effect – one way or the other.

However, even the Populus poll still suggests support outweighs opposition (just); this isn’t something Londoners as a whole are up in arms about. The main thing is that most Londoners really know very little about it.

Ben Page is chief executive of Ipsos MORI

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It's worth noting that in that ComRes survey which the Garden Bridge Trust keep quoting from when claiming Londoners love their private development that 90% of respondants knew either "nothing" to "just a little" about the project before being asked if they supported it.

    90% of people! This is after they claimed to have carried out vast public consultation and engagement.

    They are a joke.

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