One in seven young British adults has “warm feelings” towards Islamic State, according to a poll.
Isis is riding a surge of “anti-politics” sentiment among disaffected under-35s who admire the jihadists’ courage, academics warn.
A tenth of Londoners and one in 12 Scots view Islamic State (Isis) favourably, but sympathy for the militant group reaches its highest levels among the under-25s, the Populus survey found.
In the first rigorous poll to test the UK’s feelings about Isis, 2,000 adults were asked to rank several countries and terrorist organisations on a scale of one to ten, according to how “warmly and favourably” they felt about them.
Although an overwhelming majority of the public — 88 per cent — gave Isis a low score, 5.2 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds gave it a nine or a ten. Overall, 14 per cent of under-25s and 12 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds gave Islamic State a score of between six and ten, implying a degree of sympathy.
Experts said that the young people who admire Isis would probably include a small but significant number of non-Muslims disillusioned with the government and its foreign policy, as well as a core of Islamists.
Jonathan Githens-Mazer, associate professor in Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, said that the sympathy for Isis came at the crest of a digital revolution that had “changed everything”. Many under-35s had a deeply ingrained scepticism of Westminster and the media, turning instead to blogs promoting dissident and “anti-political” ideas, he said. “There’s a big trend here, which is what happens to the state — and does the state matter any more? It fits in with British scepticism about the EU.”
The 18 to 35-year-olds were the group most likely to view Britain and the US unfavourably. The poll showed that one in eight under-35s has a degree of goodwill towards Hamas and Hezbollah.
Clive Field, director of the British Religion in Numbers project at the University of Manchester, said of the poll: “It does go some way toward explaining why we have actually got five British citizens going away looking for jihad every week and we have got at least 500 over there already.”
Dr Field said that while the poll could be a rogue result it hinted at an “admiration” for the aggression with which Isis embraced its insurgency rather than support for its aims and methods.
Marat Shterin, senior lecturer in sociology of religion at King’s College London, said that it was important not to “give Isis a gift by being unnecessarily alarmist”. There are at least three explanations for the levels of sympathy for Islamic State among the young, he believes, including ignorance of foreign affairs, distrust of broadcasters and the press, and rebelliousness or annoyance towards the “establishment”.
Dr Shterin said: “I do not expect most of those who expressed a degree of ‘support’ for Isis really agree with its ideology and politics.”