Joyce Gould, the Labour Party’s director of organisation, and Patricia Hewitt had asked MORI’s Bob Worcester to conduct some focus group research for the ‘Jobs and Industry’ campaign. ‘We decided we needed some focus groups on language to see if the voters were understanding a word of what we were saying,’ Hewitt said. And Bob took out some prompt cards and stuff, and this came back with the wonderful finding that when you said ‘public ownership’ to the British people, they said, ‘That’s wonderful.’ They were really in favour of public ownership. But when we asked what they thought public ownership meant, they said, ‘It means privatisation – selling the shares to us, the public.’ We asked what they thought about nationalisation, and they said, ‘No, that’s a bad idea. That’s ownership by the government.’ There was a wicked suggestion in one of the campaign strategy meetings that we should brief all our people to talk about public ownership rather than nationalisation.
A really good example of why it’s so dangerous to rely on poll results without trying to dig beneath the surface of public opinion.