“In Britain and all across Europe there seems to be a rising tide of pessimism and unhappiness” (MORI, ‘British Public Opinion’, July 1993)
At a time when people’s happiness – or the lack of it – is a topic of discussion, it’s instructive to look back at previous moments when it has been under focus. In the mid-1990s, reading the gloomy mood of the nation contributed to the success of New Labour, as the opposition in Parliament had styled itself.
During the early 1990s recession, MORI found that economic factors were the problem among those describing themselves as unhappy – in particular, not having enough money and unemployment.
Things didn’t seem to be getting better. MORI’s tracking led to the observation in its monthly ‘British Public Opinion’ report for July 1993 that: “In Britain and all across Europe there seems to be a rising tide of pessimism and unhappiness”. That month MORI introduced a new measure, the MORI Misery Index. This combined two regular monthly tests of public confidence, the Economic Optimism Index and the Fear of Redundancy Index.
Optimism about the economy is volatile. At the time, 28% expected economic improvement but 35% thought conditions would worsen. Fear of redundancy was also an issue: 44% of adults said they were concerned about the possibility of becoming unemployed in the next 12 months.
MORI found young adults, DEs and Scots to be the most pessimistic groups. Against a national Misery Index of 33%, they scored 40% or close to it. Conversely ABs, southerners and over 55s were the least miserable.
‘British Public Opinion’ carried monthly updates on the Misery Index. Over the following 12 months there was little variation in the overall measure, which remained within the range of 30% to 35%. The demographic and geographic biases also remained consistent.
Indeed, by Jun 1994 MORI had re-branded the tracking mechanism as the Mood of the Nation Index. Under this perhaps more neutral banner the monthly measure stood at 31% in June 1994.
It wasn’t until the spring of 1996 that the index showed the nation starting to become happier. By then optimism about the economy had reached a four-year high, and concerns about redundancy were reducing. Tony Blair was able to tap into this when launching Labour’s election “pre-manifesto” at an event in July 1996 which used the pop song ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ as its soundtrack.
Within a year Labour swept to power. Reading the mood of the nation was a key part of their success in getting into government.
These reports and many others can be found in the Archive for Market and Social Research (AMSR), a new national resource being established for all those interested in market and social research. It will be useful to users and suppliers; to media organisations; and to students of the history of social attitudes and consumer behaviour as well as the history of research.