JAMES JOHNSON dispels the idea that we’re a nation of lockdown lovers 


Focus groups were more reliable than polls during Brexit, writes JAMES JOHNSON who dispels the idea that we’re a nation of lockdown lovers

Take a look at the polls, which continue to show high levels of support for tighter restrictions, and you would be forgiven for thinking we are a nation of lockdown lovers.

But the polls obscure a hidden truth – because focus groups, moderated conversations with groups of voters, show the mood is very different from March and April.

Instead of skipping merrily into another lockdown, people are frustrated, fatigued, and more conscious of the economic impact of further restrictions than ever before.

In discussions I have led around the country, voters talk more and more about how they are taking a common-sense approach to restrictions. They speak openly of how they will still visit elderly relatives, and go about their lives, in a way they would not have in the first lockdown.

The public still remain concerned about the virus, and want to put health first. But the picture of a nation merrily skipping into Lockdown 2.0 is misleading. The mood is very different from the one we saw in the spring. Pictured: Patrons drink in a Wetherspoons pub in Leigh, Greater Manchester yesterday 

This is not mass disobedience – the public remain concerned about the virus and are likely to accept new restrictions with resignation rather than revolution. But they are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.

Nuanced conversations with voters have uncovered such hidden truths in the past. Take the 2015 election, when Labour and the Conservatives were level-pegging in the polls, but fears about the role Nicola Sturgeon could play in a government led by Ed Miliband came up again and again in focus groups.

Similarly, most opinion polls before the 2016 EU referendum pointed to a victory for Remain. Focus groups showed a much deeper alarm at uncontrolled EU immigration and support for Brexit. On both occasions, focus groups were more reliable.

What has caused this shift in the public mood on coronavirus restrictions? First, people speak about how fatigued they are by the measures, saying that though they see why they are needed, they are unsure they can face another six months of the same.

Take the 2015 election, when Labour and the Conservatives were level-pegging in the polls, but fears about the role Nicola Sturgeon could play in a government led by Ed Miliband came up again and again in focus groups

Take the 2015 election, when Labour and the Conservatives were level-pegging in the polls, but fears about the role Nicola Sturgeon could play in a government led by Ed Miliband came up again and again in focus groups

The impacts on mental health, and routine NHS care, come up more often.

There is also a growing frustration that those in charge do not follow the rules, yet expect us to. Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle comes up repeatedly.

And, finally, there is widespread confusion about the rules.

The tiered system has generated more questions than answers. Terms like ‘rule of six’ and ‘support bubble’ are used interchangeably.

The public still remain concerned about the virus, and want to put health first. But the picture of a nation merrily skipping into Lockdown 2.0 is misleading. The mood is very different from the one we saw in the spring.

James Johnson of JL Partners was a Downing Street polling adviser to Theresa May

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