Public opinion on behaviour change policy

March 2012

What lies between a nudge and a shove? A recent global report by Ipsos Mori into public opinion of behaviour change policy has revealed a complicated set of responses to the different ways that governments can influence behaviour changes, from information campaigns to legislation and tougher actions: from the gentle nudge of an advertising campaign to the emphatic shove of increased taxation. Targeting 18,500 people across 24 countries, the survey explores people’s attitudes to different types of behaviour change mechanisms with a focus on smoking, unhealthy foods, saving for retirement and living in an environmentally sustainable way. A key lesson from the survey is that publics around the world continue to favour communication as a way of behaviour change used by governments. 92 per cent of the respondents cited the provision of information as the leading government behaviour change tactic, with making behaviour more expensive or difficult at 69 per cent and mandatory legislation at 62 per cent. The report also highlights the importance of communication campaigns in setting the scene for subsequent legislative enforcement, such as the UK and Ireland’s smoking bans. It reads: “These smoking bans were preceded by years of softer interventions from comms campaigns, price mechanisms, more targeted bans on smoking on transport, seeing public space bans introduced in other countries and so on. Indeed, the debate encouraged by raising the possibility of a ban itself caused views to shift significantly in favour in a relatively short space of time.” While emphasising the fact that a mixed approach – including ‘soft’ measures as well as legislation – is necessary, the report calls for policy-makers to draw “on a broader notion of public preparedness that understands public acceptability as part of a cycle of change and not simply as a static indicator of support.” Taken from Ipsos MORI, Acceptable Behaviour? Public Opinion on Behaviour Change Policy.

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