the voices
of campaigners

Every year, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation asks campaigners what’s going on in their world. The annual survey of campaigners and activists was conducted between 19 October 2020 and 20 November 2020. 

In 2020, activists and organisations big and small shared their views about the environment for campaigning (see results below). 

The 2020 Campaigner Survey results are here!

What’s happening with change-makers? What did the 2020 Campaigner Survey tell us?  Our annual survey helps us speak up more powerfully for them.

What did the 2020 Campaigner Survey tell us?

The gap is widening between politicians and public on campaigning for social change. 

Campaigners in civil society are encountering an increasingly hostile political environment, but politicians are now far more likely to be negative about campaigning than the general public – and it’s a growing gap.

63% say that politicians have become more negative to campaigning in 2020 (up from 45% in 2019).  In contrast, 54% say that the public is now more positive to campaigning (up from 48% in 2019).

This comes after years of tightening government restrictions on campaigning and increasingly intolerant attitudes to dissent.

Formal measures include the Lobbying Act, the use of ‘gagging clauses’ attached to grants, and proposals to restrict access to judicial review.

In 2020, several high-profile campaigns by charities and civil society groups were heavily criticised.

The National Trust faced a backlash from some Conservative MPs and elements of the media after it published a report into slavery and colonialism links at its properties.

Food poverty campaigns by the footballer Marcus Rashford and Unicef UK were criticised by some MPs and media outlets for calling on the Government to give more help to low-income families struggling to provide food for their children during the pandemic. The Government later u-turned on its refusal to provide free school meals over the holidays following strong public support.

The owners of flats with dangerous cladding, who campaigned for help from the Government to replace it in the wake of the Grenfell fire, are now prevented from speaking to journalists without government permission. Grants have ‘gagging clauses’ attached.

The pandemic, coming on top of austerity-driven policy, seems to have increased the appetite for social change and campaigning. 

Covid-19 has exposed systemic problems, growing need, and may have made people ‘more aware that they need to fight for change to happen’. More than half (54%) said that campaigning was now a greater priority for their organisation, and 48% said their organisation had increased its campaigning over the past three years.

What is helping? 

Campaigners say that people and organisations are becoming bolder and braver, with more community-led campaigns. ​The public seem to be more receptive to campaign messages, especially amidst the pandemic and high-profile campaigns like Black Lives Matter and Marcus Rashford’s food poverty work. Plus, there’s simply greater need and people are responding by campaigning.

What is not? 

A more hostile political environment has seen politicians shutting down channels of communication, and attacking campaigners and their allies as a threat to the common good. The pandemic has made traditional ways of campaigning difficult or even impossible, and there are signs of digital ‘exhaustion’. 2020 saw proposals for further formal restrictions (e.g. restrictions on protest and judicial review) and more informal restrictions (e.g. attacks by politicians and media on charities campaigning).

Previous SMK Campaigner Survey results

survey results

2019 Results

Read more >


2018 Results

Read more >


2017 Results

Read more >

survey results

2016 Results

Read more >

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