At Trajectory, we have been examining the prevalence and impact of trends in polarisation and fragmentation for several years. As we embark on 2018 these trends, and the impact they have on markets, consumers, businesses and politics has never been greater.
Since the decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, the split between different factions of the UK population has been expressed in many terms. At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016 Theresa May suggested that those who see themselves as citizens of the world could be better described as ‘citizens of nowhere’. Co-opting this language, the former editor of Prospect’s David Goodhart set out the split between ‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’ – a conflict of identity and belonging that made Brexit inevitable. By the end of 2017 psephologist par-extraordinaire Professor Sir John Curtice was describing ‘social liberals’ and ‘social conservatives’ as the new dynamic driving politics.
Regardless of the articulation, there is clearly a new and powerful divide. But this new dichotomy is not confined to the UK – instead there is evidence of it across Europe and North America. Across different markets, there are stark differences in how different generations perceive their place in the world and their priorities for life. As forecasters, we interpret this as nothing less than a battle for the future.
One of the biggest – and most visible – impacts of the New Dichotomy is the evaporation of the political centre. Partisan politics is back in two party systems, and long gone are the cosy days of a centre ground where elections where fought over a handful of % of GDP in tax and spend decisions. In multi-party systems – particularly visible across continental Europe – new or extreme parties are making significant ground.
The centre ground is evaporating for brands too. Brands are facing up to a new expectation to be political; not just to share their customers values but to fight the same fight. Since the first iteration of President Trump’s travel ban last year – when Amazon, Starbucks and Airbnb demonstrated a new era of corporate political disobedience – the tone has been set. In the UK, the Stop Funding Hate campaign has forced apologies (and changes in policy) from a number of brands over their choice of media partners. Paperchase will not be running promotions in the Daily Mail this year.
With consumers approaching the months ahead in a recessionary mindset and with growth in the resilient areas of leisure spending slowing, 2018 promises to be a challenging year. Understanding the fault lines of the new, fundamental dichotomy shaping citizen identities will be essential in navigating both this year and beyond.
These issues and more were discussed at our Trends Breakfast in London on January 25th 2018. To access the presentation from that event, click here.