Today’s YouGov poll into the English Defence League (EDL) tells us little we didn’t know, yet a lot about what we need to know.
The key findings are interesting. A third of people know what the EDL is all about. Slightly more, 42%, have heard of the EDL but do not know what it stands for. A quarter of the population have never heard of the EDL.
Of those who have heard of the EDL only 11% said they would consider joining while 85% say that would never support the EDL.
Asked if the EDL was racist, an overwhelming 75% agreed while just 17% said it was not.
Amongst the people who knew what the EDL stood for, 23% sympathised with their aims but object to its methods (69% disagree with the vales and the methods). This confirms earlier reports, such as our own Fear and HOPE survey, which showed that violence contaminated the extremist message.
The poll confirms a lot we already knew, principally that the EDL is considered to be a racist and violent organisation by the vast majority of those people who know of it. It is a toxic brand but far from being a household name.
However, I think we need to caution against complacency. The EDL is just three years old and given it has never contested elections it is only known from newspaper reports of its demonstrations and other violent activities. I actually think that 75% have heard of the EDL, even if not everyone knows of its objectives, is a surprisingly high figure.
While only 11% of the 33% who know of the EDL and its politics would considering joining, that actually equates to 3% of the population – substantially higher than the current polling level of the BNP. And this is people who would consider ‘joining’ the EDL.
More worryingly, almost a quarter of the 33% have some sympathy with the EDL cause, if not it’s objectives, which equates to just over 7% of the population. This is worryingly high but perhaps not surprising given the strength of anti-Muslim prejudice in the country.
So, does this mean that the EDL can ever attract 7% support? Highly unlikely. This is because, as those behind the research point out, it is a toxic brand and its association with violence scares off many people who would perhaps sympathise with their political goals. And given the current state of the EDL, this is not only unlikely to change but the move towards a more violent and hardline strategy of an increasing number of EDL supporters is likely to alienate itself even further from its potential supporter base. So the EDL is caught in a vicious cycle, because as it loses its respectability it becomes even more hardline and violent.
I recently wrote an essay about the state of the far right in which I warn against a rise in racist and political violence, largely because EDL activists have become radicalised through their involvement in the group and so, in the process, are becoming frustrated with the leadership’s drive for respectability and desire to get involved in electoral politics.
The YouGov poll confirms much of what we knew about the EDL but it should warn us all that a marginalised, toxic group can become even more aggressive and violent if it believes it has no hope of gaining respectability.