From Brexit to COVID: The interactive chart that shows the issues Britons cared about throughout 2020

Matilda Long
·4-min read
The most important issues to Brits in 2020
In January 2020, Brexit and the NHS were the most important issues to British people. After the emergence of the COVID pandemic, coronavirus was consistently the top concern. (PA Images)

On 1 January, 2020, the World Health Organization requested information from the Chinese government on a reported cluster of atypical pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan.

The cases turned out to be the first records of COVID-19, and the start of the global pandemic that would grip the entire world throughout the year.

That same month, less than 1% of British people that a pandemic flu was one of the most important issues facing the country.

Watch: How tech helped us get through 2020

Three months later, in the midst of a national lockdown, 85% said the spread of the new coronavirus was the most important issue to them.

Pollster Ipsos MORI asked a sample of people through the year what they thought were the most pressing concerns for the country.

The interactive chart below tracks the issues flagged as the most important throughout 2020 – and the drastic changes throughout the year.

In January, Brexit and the NHS dominated the agenda, while environmental worry hit a 30-year high.

The Issues Index in April painted an entirely different picture.

COVID-19 topped the list of concerns for the first time. The number of people citing coronavirus as a concern was on a par with the highest score for any topic since the series began in September 1974.

READ MORE: The story behind one of the most significant pictures of the year

Worries about the economy were also on the up, with the number of people citing this as their biggest concern doubling since February.

Speaking at the time, Mike Clemence, associate director at Ipsos MORI, said: “It should come as no surprise to see coronavirus dominating public concern to a level rarely seen in the half century covered by our long-running Issues Index poll. In that time, we have only recorded a higher score four times.

“Many other issues which had been rising up the public’s priorities, including climate change, crime – and even Brexit – seem to be crowded out by this focus since the last Issues Index in February.

“Specific mentions of the health service have also fallen sharply since February, although given widespread conversation about potential shortages in equipment and the hard work of NHS staff, it is likely that there is an overlap between concern about the pandemic and its impact on the NHS.

“Instead, the public appear to be increasingly worried about the economy, suggesting that in the teeth of this crisis the public are starting to think about the shape Britain will be in when it emerges from lockdown.”

READ MORE: The 10 things we wanted to know about COVID in 2020

In June, while COVID-19 continued to dominate the list of concerns, race relations emerged as a key issue.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer drove racial inequality up the agenda, as thousands took to the streets to participate in Black Lives Matter protests.

People hold up placards in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as they take part in the inaugural Million People March march from Notting Hill to Hyde Park in London on August 30, 2020, to put pressure on the UK Government into changing the "UK's institutional and systemic racism". - The march is organised by The Million People Movement, and takes place on the bank holiday weekend usually associated with the Notting Hill Carnival, this year cancelled due to the coronavirus covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
In June, amid Black Lives Matter protests, more people said racial inequality was one of the most pressing issues facing Britain. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Some 24% of Britons selected race relations as the most important issue facing the country, an increase of 22 percentage points on the previous month.

Come December, the final Issues Index of the year showed coronavirus as far and away the top concern, with the numbers broadly unmoved since June.

Clemence said: “As we head towards the end of the year, the public remain highly concerned about coronavirus.

“But what is interesting is that the level of worry we’ve recorded in November, a month marked by a second wave of infections, is the same as it was in the comparatively relaxed atmosphere of June.

“This tallies with other recent studies showing the public remain strongly supportive of coronavirus restrictions.

“It suggests that public concern will continue to remain high, even as the coronavirus vaccine starts to be rolled out in December.”

Watch: How the year panned out for weather and wildlife