United Kingdom

Study shows majority of XR activists were middle-class, highly-educated women from the south

Extinction Rebellion supporters in last year's protests were overwhelmingly middle class, highly-educated women from the south of England, a new study has found.

The research shows the Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists who brought London to a standstill last year had a much broader and more diverse age profile than previous environmental direct action protests.

Academics at the University of Exeter, Keele University and Aston University discovered that around 64 per cent of protesters at the April demonstration and 56 per cent of protesters at the October demonstration were women.

The team interviewed 303 people and received 232 mailed questionnaires back from protesters. They also attended court hearings for 144 XR activists charged with minor public order offences.

A new study has found that Extinction Rebellion supporters are most likely to be middle-class, highly educated women from the south. The study looked at the demos in London last year

The climate activist group has celebrity supporters including actress Emma Thompson (pictured) and model Lily Cole who was seen visiting hunger strike protesters in December

The study revealed around 85 per cent of those who took part in the action in London last year had a degree, and a third had a postgraduate qualification.


Data shows that the average protester at last year's Extinction Rebellion demonstrations were:

Two thirds identified themselves as middle-class while a high proportion were self-employed, part-time workers or students.

Three-quarters of those who were charged with offences lived below the Severn-Wash line, traditionally separating the north and south of England.

The research also found that XR activists were mostly non-metropolitan. A third of those who appeared in court were from the West Country with hotspots in Stroud, Totnes and Frome.

This contrasted the six per cent who appeared in court and were from Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Bradford, Sheffield, Glasgow, Swansea and Cardiff combined.

Professor Clare Saunders, from the University of Exeter, said: 'Our analysis shows one strength of Extinction Rebellion has been to involve people who are not natural protesters, and perhaps even less so natural law-breakers, but who were already persuaded of the rightness of the climate cause, and frustrated with the inability of both politicians and lifestyle environmentalism to bring about change. 

'Mobilising this group enabled Extinction Rebellion to significantly expand the numbers of people willing to engage in environmental direct action, broadening its age profile, and bringing non-violent direct action on climate change into the centre of political life in the UK.'

Extinction Rebellion is a global environmental movement who aim to use non-violent civil disobedience to try and compel government action to tackle climate change.

In April last year, more than 1,000 activists were arrested after protesters occupied four sites across London as well as blocking roads, disrupting a railway line and conducting a protest at Heathrow.

Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf in April last year

Extinction Rebellion protesters sprayed the treasury with 1,800 litres of fake blood in October

In October, protesters used a decommissioned fire engine to spray the front of the treasury in London with 1,800 litres of fake blood, holding banners which read 'STOP FUNDING CLIMATE DEATH'.

The group has received celebrity backing since their profile has grown including the likes of actress Emma Thompson and British models Lily Cole and Daisy Lowe.

The study, which was published yesterday and funded by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, revealed that XR supporters are also more likely to be new to protesting than other environmental activists, with 10 per cent of those who took part in the April 2019 protest being first-time demonstrators.

British model Daisy Lowe seen at October's Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar Square is one of many celebs to back group

The majority of protesters surveyed said they most closely identified with the Green Party at 59.1 per cent while 15.5 per cent said they backed the Labour party.

Researchers say there was almost no support among Extinction Rebellion activists for the Conservative party and very little for the Liberal Democrats.

Professor Brian Doherty, from Keele University, said: 'We found Extinction Rebellion activists are much more likely to vote and be members of political parties than the general population.

'But they are also sceptical about the ability of political parties and government to deliver effective solutions to environmental problems.'

Dr Graeme Hayes, from Aston University, said: 'Protestors said they did not believe in reliance on companies and the market, governments, or lifestyle changes by individuals to solve the climate crisis.

'Almost all said they were protesting to raise awareness of the climate emergency, and to pressure politicians to act.

'This is a potential point of contention for Extinction Rebellion. Its strategy emphasises lobbying the government for action, but its activists do not think the government can deliver.'

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