Harris Poll Overview, 1969-1972

By Peter Bartram

Among the most relevant uses of the material in the Archive of Market and Social Research (AMSR) website is that of being able to identify longer-term changes in our national life, by comparing current with historical data.

One vehicle for doing this has been the Harris Poll, established in the UK in the autumn of 1969, providing monthly surveys based on respectable random samples of more than 2,000 adults in Great Britain.  Weekly stories based on these surveys were given prominent exposure in the Daily Express in the years after that.

By comparing current data with this research covering a range of subjects 50 years ago, plenty of evidence is provided of the ways in which British social, political and economic lives have changed. Brief examples include:

  • Back then, 72% of British adults had never been abroad; by 2014, according to YouGov, this has now fallen as low as 8%, and according to ABTA as many as 53% have taken a foreign holiday in the last year.
  • Back then, only 38% had a bank account with a cheque book; now as many 94% have some sort of bank current account  (though not necessarily with a cheque book).
  • Back then 30% believed flying saucers were real. If anything, this has probably increased — YouGov found in 2015 that 52% believe there is extra-terrestrial intelligent life.
  • Back then, 65% of those using an estate agent were satisfied with the service provided. By 2009, according to the Office of Fair Trading, this had risen to 88%.
  • Otherwise, the Harris poll found in 1970-71 that 62% were against British entry to the Common Market; only 33% of drivers used a seat belt on their last trip (it wasn’t legally required then); 84% backed hanging for at least some capital crimes including murder (it’s now only a bit less, at 65% according to pollsters Angus Reid); 83% backed fines for people abandoning their pets; and 48% went to a pub or club in the previous month.

Much more detail on each of these topics is to be found in the Harris reports in the Archive of Market and Social Research website, but it is clear that despite current difficulties, most people now lead better lives with greater opportunities for personal fulfilment than was the case 50 years ago.