British public support ban on targeted political ads online

  • New report by think tank Demos has found that a large majority (61%) of people agree that profiling people based on their online data should be illegal.
  • The report also found that the vast majority of people (88%) agreed that political campaigns should have to obey the same rules when they are advertising online as they do in leaflets or on TV.

New research has found that calls for greater regulation in political campaigns have a far greater consensus of support among the general public than arguments against regulation.

A new report from Demos [published on 3 August 2020] has found that 61% of people think profiling people based on their online data should be illegal, and the majority of the public think that companies providing services to data driven campaigns should be more tightly regulated. 

Polis and the political process, written in partnership with the Open Rights Group (ORG), explores public attitudes regarding data driven political campaigning using a unique deliberative online tool, Polis. Demos used Polis to conduct nationally representative polling on statements provided by respondents themselves, and map out how attitudes around different issues interact.

The report also found:

  • Overwhelming majorities agreed political campaigns should have to obey the same rules when they are advertising online as they do in leaflets or on TV (88%), that greater transparency is needed around political funding (84%), that political campaigns should publish all advertising materials (81%) and that they should publish how much they are spending (79%). 
  • There is a strong consensus among the British public that facts used in political campaigns need to be verified, and politicians responsible need to be held to account. 90% of respondents agreed that facts used in political campaigns need to be verified, whilst only 4% disagreed.
  • On the other hand, 56% of people think there should be less red tape stopping politicians saying and doing what their voters want, and 52% say authorities shouldn’t control what politicians are allowed to say – suggesting public attitudes are malleable on these issues depending on the phrasing of the statement.
  • The research found that the public are divided over whether targeted political campaigns have an influence on the way that they vote, with 46% of respondents saying political campaigns do not influence their voting intentions, and 41% saying political campaigns do influence their voting intentions.
  • The public are also divided over whether politicians should be subject to international oversight. 42% of respondents thought that they should not, with 34% thinking that they should.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Harry Carr, Director of Innovation at Demos and Polis and the political process co-author said:

“As the report shows, there is a huge appetite for greater transparency and regulation when it comes to data driven political campaigns, especially if it means holding politicians to account; indeed, the majority would ban their practices outright. 

“It also shows the unique value of our groundbreaking research tool, Polis, in allowing people to define the key issues of the debate in their own words, and mapping out the values and motivations that underlie their beliefs. It will provide an incredibly useful tool going forward to find the solutions to some of our thorniest policy issues.”

Pascal Crowe, Data and Democracy Project Officer at Open Rights Group and contributor to the report said: 

“This report supports previous research on this topic by Open Rights Group. The public do not want to be targeted and have their rights abused by data driven political campaigns. While transparency is part of the solution, the public also just wants tight rules and heavier enforcement.

By contrast, Polis makes a positive case for using innovative technology in the democratic process. Rather than narrowing debate, encouraging polarisation and demeaning trust, this tool provides the opportunity to build public consensus in policy making.”

The full report can be found here.






Polis allows respondents to interact with each other constructively – people submit their own statements in their own words, and other respondents view and react to them – and maps out where clusters of opinion emerge, highlighting areas of consensus between groups of differing attitudes. Demos has pioneered the use of Polis with a nationally representative sample.

Media Contacts

Josh Tapper, Communications Officer, Demos

Email: [email protected]

Open Rights Group

Email: [email protected]

About Demos

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.