New poll shows slump in support for Grand National

Posted on the 1st September 2011

Public support for Aintree’s historic Grand National race has declined significantly over the last eight years, according to the results of a new NOP opinion poll, commissioned by national campaign group Animal Aid.

Most people who expressed a clear opinion said that the race is cruel. In an equivalent 2003 poll, most people thought the race was not cruel.

Forty-five per cent of people now say the Grand National is cruel, while 32 per cent disagreed. This is a reversal of the 2003 position when 50 per cent expressed a positive view of the race, compared with 41 per cent who opposed it (see Notes to Editors).

The change in public mood coincides with increased coverage by the national and regional media of horse fatalities that occur during the three-day Grand National meeting, including the big race itself. Twenty horses have perished since 2000 on the Grand National course – nine in the headline event. In April 2011, there were two victims in the big race – Ornais broke his neck at the fourth fence and Dooneys Gate broke his back at the notorious Becher’s Brook.

The 2011 deaths caused a media and public outcry and led to a review by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) of the event. The regulatory body’s interim results – recommending what Animal Aid has condemned as ‘ineffectual tinkering’ – were published in mid-August.

Since 2000, Animal Aid has undertaken a series of investigations and exposés of welfare problems and fatalities in racing in general and in the Grand National in particular (see our Grand National factfile). In March 2007, the national campaign group launched Race Horse Deathwatch, an online database detailing the names and circumstances of horses killed on Britain’s 60 racecourses. Since its launch, more than 730 thoroughbreds have been killed in races.

Fieldwork for the new NOP poll was conducted between 19 and 21 August 2011. One thousand adults – weighted for age, class, sex and geographical region – were asked whether or not they agreed with the statement that the Grand National is cruel. Disapproval of the race among women was markedly high, and greater still amongst the youngest age category polled, the 16-24-year-olds. This is especially bad news for the racing industry, which has acknowledged that its core support comes from a rapidly ageing following.

Says Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler:

‘The racing industry is desperate to erase from public memory the shocking televised scenes of two horses being killed at April’s Grand National. But it is clear from a new independent opinion poll that increasing numbers of people now find the race cruel and, therefore, unsupportable. Sentiment against the Grand National is building rapidly. And the worst news for the organisers of this perversely cruel event, and for all those who profit from it, is that young adults – on whom racing must depend for its future – are the most disapproving of all.’

The 2011 and 2003 NOP poll results can be seen at:
2011 poll
2003 poll

Notes to Editors

The 2011 poll, as well as asking for a definitive answer on the cruelty issue, also allowed respondents to answer that they ‘neither agree or disagree’ with the question – an option that was not available to 2003 respondents. This was in addition to the ‘don’t know’ category, which did appear in 2003. A notable feature of the new poll is the large number of people who felt unable to express an opinion one way or another (19 per cent).

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