Last summer we asked MPs to think about their favourite charities and which category they fell into. MPs could select a number of different options from a prompted list. In our Charity Parliamentary Monitor research with 150 MPs (incl. 74 Conservative, 61 Labour and 8 SNP MPs) on behalf of charities we also ask questions that help us to understand the wider context that charities are working in at Westminster. We were interested in finding out if particular causes were more popular with MPs than others.
Cancer, Children and UK armed forces are MPs favourite causes
We found that ‘cancer’ was the top favourite cause, chosen by two thirds of MPs (42%), followed by ‘children and young people’ and ‘UK Armed Forces’, chosen by a third of MPs (36% for both). Cancer was considered a top cause by both major parties and was the second highest favourite cause for Conservative MPs and third for Labour. Children similarly was a top cause for both parties. However, UK armed forces was much more popular with Conservatives with over half selecting this as their favourite cause compared to only 12% of Labour MPs.
Homelessness and social welfare were the top cause for Labour (47%) and SNP (55%) MPs
This compares to only 15% of Conservative MPs who chose homelessness and social welfare as their favourite cause. We also found that ‘older people’ and ‘hospices’ were more favoured by Conservative MPs, and ‘overseas aid and development’ and ‘human rights’ were more favoured by Labour and SNP MPs. This is similar to the party splits that we tend to see in the effectiveness measures for human rights and overseas aids charities. The differences in favourite causes appear to follow the key policy interests of these parties.
Charities working on ‘environment and conservation’ and ‘UK Armed Forces’ are more popular among MPs than the public
This demonstrates that even if your cause is not resonating with the public, this does not mean that campaigning with MPs won’t be fruitful. Charities may find that they get a warmer reception with MPs compared to the general public. However, this is not to say that the public are not interested in your issue. In our research with the general public we found that half of the general public would prioritise environmental concerns over economic considerations highlighting that even if an environmental charity is not necessarily their favourite this does not mean they are not concerned about environmental issues.
The public is more likely to favour animal charities than MPs
Animal charities are the second favourite cause with the general public with 1/3 of the general public saying their favourite charity works in animal welfare. Cancer is the top favourite cause with the public and children are the third most favourite. For causes that are more popular with the public than with MPs, campaigns that involve constituents contacting their representative could be an effective way of capitalising on this and getting an MPs attention and engagement.
Campaigns that are not for a favourite cause are still successful
Although a charity’s cause might not be amongst MPs favourite, we found that this does not necessarily affect whether MPs say they support or are aware of the campaign. For example, whilst animal charities are a favourite for only a quarter of MPs, some of the campaigns we tracked for animal charities last year had some of the highest levels of awareness and support amongst MPs.
Not being a favourite cause is not a death knell for your charity. Many charities outperform how their sector is perceived by MPs through excellent engagement with MPs or compelling campaigns. Charities may need to consider how to be more innovative with their engagement or get public and constituent involvement on causes that MPs don’t naturally see as their favourite. Equally, whilst being a favourite cause can make it easier to get your foot in the door and speak to MPs about your issues, it does not mean automatic support and charities will still need to work hard to effect change.