With the elections of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) on 15 November, the picture that emerges from a YouGov-Cambridge/RUSI poll is of a public concerned at the politicisation of policing, sceptical about the effects the new police commissioners will have, and showing a degree of apathy and lack of understanding.
In the first ever collaborative poll between RUSI and YouGov-Cambridge, the public was asked for its views on one of the most radical changes to policing in decades - the election of PCCs to replace Police Authorities and oversee local policing in every force in England and Wales except London.
Featuring in the forthcoming edition of the RUSI Journal, YouGov questioned 1,744 British adults online for the poll, including 1,356 adults in England and Wales outside London, where police and crime commissioners are to be elected. The data is weighted to be nationally representative of the British adult population.
The strongest finding in the poll reveals the depth of concern at the fact many, if not most, candidates are likely to be standing under the banner of, or with some financial support from, a political party: 61 per cent of those polled disapprove of candidates being supported by a political party, with disapproval rising to 74 per cent amongst those 60 and over. Only 11 per cent showed approval of party political support, with 19 per cent of those polled neither approving nor disapproving and 8 per cent saying they did not know.
The poll implies there is significant cynicism over the difference PCCs are likely to make. When asked whether they thought PCCs would 'help or hinder the fight against crime', nearly half (47 per cent) said they would make no difference. The figure rose to 56 per cent amongst those aged 60 and over. Overall, 21 per cent of respondents felt PCCs would help the fight against crime and 13 per cent felt they would actively hinder it.
The poll also suggests many people fear the introduction of PCCs could herald a postcode lottery as far as policing is concerned. Nearly half (45 per cent) of those polled agreed that having individual PCCs for each Police Force area meant some areas would have worse policing than others - only 10 per cent disagreed. Among those aged 60 or over, those predicting policing would be worse in some areas rose to 54 per cent, but it fell to 36 per cent among 18-24 year olds.
Only a small minority of those polled indicated they understood the role of Police and Crime Commissioners; 11 per cent of people claimed they had a good understanding. Of the remaining 89 per cent, when asked if they had a good understanding of what PCCs will do, 48 per cent disagreed, 14 per cent did not know and 28 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed.
Analysing the polling data for the RUSI Journal, Margaret Gilmore, Senior Research Fellow at RUSI, argues 'there was no consensus amongst those polled on whether PCCs will deliver local empowerment over policing'. When asked to comment on the statement 'Local Police Commissioners will give people like me more say in how my local area is policed', around a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) agreed, the same number disagreed, almost the same number neither agreed nor disagreed (26 per cent) and the rest said they did not know (19 per cent).
When asked 'how likely are you to vote in these elections', 21 per cent said they were absolutely certain to vote. In the light of this poll, Gilmore suggests, it will be interesting to see what the turnout in the elections on 15 November will be.
An embargoed copy of 'Electing Police and Crime Commissioners: The challenges and opportunities of the new role', plus full analysis of the YouGov-Cambridge/RUSI poll findings can be viewed at www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Journal_PCC_Analysis.pdf
To view the full YouGov-Cambridge Police and Crime Commissioners survey results please visit www.rusi.org/PCCPoll