New Coke, the sweeter reformulation of Coca-Cola that the company launched in the 1980s, is remembered as a failure of market research or at least, of the interpretation of market research. Surveys in advance, focus groups and taste tests preferred the new version of Coke. When it actually launched there was a negative backlash. People didn’t like their Coke being messed with and Coca-Cola eventually reversed and went back to the old formula. It’s a classic example of how a product that tests well in the artificial environment of a survey or taste test doesn’t necessarily perform the same way “in the wild”, when subject to the full chaotic system of public opinion.

This isn’t going to be a post about Coca-Cola market research strategy in the 1980s – I am sure it was far more complicated than the myths that have grown up about it – rather this polling from YouGov for the Times about NHS spending. At the weekend some of the papers reported that Labour were considering an increase in National Insurance contributions to help fund the NHS. YouGov asked people directly about this – would they like to see the basic level of National Insurance go up from 12p to 13p to help fund the NHS – indeed, people would, by 48% to 37%.

Politicians have in the past tended to use National Insurance as a rise that is less noticeable to the public than income tax, even though for salaried employees it is much the same thing (obviously it has different thresholds, but it’s still essentially an extra 1% of your salary deducted at source). I was a little cynical about that – did it really work, or do people treat it just the same? Or even, would people prefer the honesty of an income tax rise? YouGov asked the same question using a rise in the basic rate of income tax. Funded from income tax its the other way around, 34% support it, 51% are opposed. It looks as it the ruse works – if the extra 1% of people’s wages is labelled a NI rise, people support it. If it’s labelled an income tax rise, people oppose it.

Of course there are technical differences between NI and income tax (the way it affects the self-employed, or isn’t paid by pensioners, or is paid by people on lower pay than income tax is) and in theory they could contribute to the difference. I suspect most of the answer is simply that people are more aware of income tax and how it works and understand national insurance less well. Hence they are less supportive of a tax rise when they understand exactly how they’ll be paying it.

To bring it back to the New Coke analogy though, what does the question tell us about the policy? Would it be a popular thing for Labour to promise? Well, I think it tells us there’s a risk there. If support for a tax rise is conditional upon people not understanding it very well it does pose the question of what would happen if they had it explained to them, or even “misexplained” to them (remember how a National Insurance rise was packaged up as a “Labour jobs tax” by the Tories before the last election?). Essentially people like spending more on the NHS, they generally dislike paying more taxes (YouGov also asked if people would support keeping income tax, NI and health spending the same – people supported that too!). In the artificial scenario of a polling question you can link those two things and force people to consider them as one, you can use a form of tax people answering the question aren’t so familiar with. If it was an actual party policy, it would be out there being debated by parties, reported by the media, discussed in the pub. Would it be a discussion about how Labour are willing to make the hard but necessary decisions on providing the funding for the future of the NHS? Or would it be a discussion about how Labour would be putting up ordinary people’s taxes? Until a policy goes out into the wild that’s not an easy question to answer.

122 Responses to “But it is popular in real life?”

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  1. @Old Nat

    The Cornish should be very wary of young Mr Alexander and lock up their daughters and wives. Sir Tristan was, by all accounts, a Pictish knight.

  2. “Tax cuts make employment and work more attractive. Period.”


    Depends on your needs and value system. Tax cuts might make working less attractive, if your are not so fussed about the money and value time more. And tax cuts on assets might also make work less attractive… why work if you can make more on buy-to-let?…

  3. @Mr Beeswax – indeed. I was highly amused at the reaction of the SNP to the recent petitions to Edinburgh from both the northern and western isles demanding each had a referendum of their own on their constitutional future one week after the independence vote.

    The petition asks for three votes (one for each island group) in the event of No vote, the question being do ech of the island groups wish to stay in Scotland (&the UK) or be independent, and if its a Yes, whether they wish to stay in the UK.

    To be completely fair to the SNP, they have historically said that Shetland should be free to choose their own future, although last month Angus McNeil (SNP Rural Affairs minister) tried to claim that ideas of independence for the islands was ‘a non starter’ in a BBC interview, before backtracking and admitting that should have the option of self determination if there was sufficient interest.

    Forget the Cornish – it would be the ultimately belly laugh for the English if Scotland took their leave, and then lost the islands – maybe even coming back to the UK, with a fair lump of oil as well.

  4. Postageincluded


    I’m sure that young Mr Alexander would be mightily pissed off to just be a “Sir” , when he becomes unemployed next year.

    He’ll be looking to be a Baron at least, though maidens that he has despoiled may be grateful that “barren” might be his only legacy.

  5. Equally, higher taxes can rather make working more, more attractive, if you want enough to feed yourself and make ends meet.

  6. Tax cuts on investment might make employment less attractive… why employ someone if a robot is now cheaper?…

  7. So you cut income tax, so more people want to migrate here to work. Will that improve employment for those already living here?… and with more competition for jobs driving down wages, then the tax cut gets offset by wage losses…

  8. No poll?

  9. So you cut NI… with unemployment bearing down on competition for employees, what is to stop employers just soaking up the NI cut by restricting wages?…

  10. Tax cuts are good in principle because the state should take as little from the people as possible.

    To get back to the poll, it highlights the fact that successive governments have traduced the original intention of National Insurance, and have turned it into another tax in all but name.

  11. @RAF

    Not read the first page then?

  12. So, you put up NI by a couple of percent. Ah, you say, but people may move abroad!! Sure, if they are mobile, if their skills are sufficiently portable, if they don’t mind uprooting their kids, abandoning their network, and parents in their dotage etc… maybe don’t mind moving to a backwater… only to find the place they move to decides to put up tax after you arrive anyway…

  13. Pete B

    “successive governments have traduced the original intention of National Insurance, and have turned it into another tax in all but name.”

    While that’s clearly true, my wife and I have statements from the UK Government that we are entitled to pensions of £x and £y based on our different National Insurance contributions.

    That the UK Government chose to spend those contributions as if they were part of general taxation, presumably doesn’t invalidate the contractual nature of our mutual arrangement.

    Unless the UK goes bust, and like any other incompetent/criminal pension provider that misused the income flow, they should still be liable for the commitments it has made.

  14. @PETE B

    “Tax cuts are good in principle because the state should take as little from the people as possible.”


    So if tax cuts are always good, you keep cutting taxes till the State provides everything pretty much for free?

    Or maybe if the idea is the State shouldn’t provide, that the private sector should do it instead, you might wish tobbe taxed again if you wind up paying the private providers more. Like in the States, where healthcare costs more because people lack the State’s buying power.

    Tbis is presuming the private sector are able and willing to provide the service. I’ve given other examples in the past, here’s another: the eradication of mass illiteracy. How come the private sector never stepped up to the plate to provide affordable education for all, and the State had to sort it out. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t any demand for education or becoming literate.

    Problem is, private education costs, and if your patents are illiterate this tends to put a limit on their earning potential. Chicken and egg.

  15. Carfrew

    In 1696 the Government ordered locally funded, Church-supervised schools to be established in every parish, in order that mass illiteracy could be overcome.

  16. @Old Nat

    After the next election the Liberal Democrats will be over-represented in the House of Lords , so Danny can whistle,

    And even if a place could be found for him in the Best Club in London he’d only be there for a year or so, surely?

  17. @Oldnat

    I mentioned the church thing in passing in the past… I’ve been told the Scots had this rather more sorted out… you prolly have the info on that…

  18. I think it’s safe to say that whatever effect the budget had on the polls, and it definitely had some initial impact, it has now fully unwound. The changes to pensions have been all but forgotten and we’re back in a political world where whatever Osborne said or did a few weeks ago has disappeared into the ether. In other words, the game hasn’t changed in any significant way and the terms of political engagement remain broadly as they were.

    So, with twelve months to go before the Big One, what could happen that transforms a fairly well set political course? The European elections, obviously, if they catapult UKIP into first place. The September conferences? Maybe, if we see a barnstorming leader’s speech and/or some eye-catching policy announcements. Continuing economic recovery? Again, maybe, but with growth now established for nine months or more, there’s no evidence thus far that it’s putting wind into the Coalition’s sails. Radical policy announcements from Labour? Could be a game-changer if they catch the uncertain public mood but, equally, could invite telling enemy fire.

    Of course, our beloved events, dear boy, events, impossible to predict, may come to bear, but I’m starting to get the feeling that it might take something pretty seismic now to change these polls. They seem remarkably steady and resilient to me.

    I ask this question genuinely, and in no way rhetorically, but do you think a lot of the electorate have more or less made up their minds by now?

  19. Postageincluded

    I doubt that would be a problem. The UK Government could expand membership of the HoL to an appropriate size of membership to accommodate the failed LDs (that may involve giving peerages to everyone who would have qualified for a vote in 1830).

    Alternatively, Danny would happily become a Tory (or UKIP or independent, or any bloody labe,l as long as he gets an ermine robe) peer.


    I find it interesting that education legislation in England cf Scotland continues to show similar differences as between the English 1870 Act and the Scottish one of 1872.

    Some things to seem to be ingrained in national psyches, regardless of things like research, international practice etc etc. I’ve never really understood why that should happen.

  20. cb11


  21. CB11,

    Many of the voters in the upcoming election made up their minds before they were even eligible. Sometime around December 2010, if I recall.

    But basically, yes. In fact I think most people have always known how they’re going to vote in advance, but in this election it’s even more the case. Don’t really know why, other than it doesn’t feel like a different political atmosphere to 2010, in the same way that one did to 2005. Odd really since the result will probably be quite different.

  22. Worth pointing out that whilst party vote shares have changed a bit the Labour lead is no smaller than was the case 8 months ago!

  23. OldNat

    Mr Beeswax is possibly picking on the Orcadians as the representatives of the Islanders because in Viking times it was the Earls of Orkney (technically as vassals of Norway) who controlled both Shetland and at times the Hebrides, various other Scottish isles, the Isle of Man and even Dublin. In addition much of the adjacent areas of mainland Scotland (eg Caithness) were under Norse control.

    Ancient history aside, I suspect there probably isn’t that much demand in any of the Scottish Island groups for separation from Scotland and, if there was, independence or (re-)uniting with Norway might seem more attractive options than hanging on with more distant rUK. And if you’re going to establish the principle that bits of established countries can break off on a whim, then maybe Kent, Cornwall or Northumberland will start getting itchy feet.

  24. Incidentally the tables for the YouGov Welsh polls that MrN referred to on the previous thread, are not yet out (and may not be for a while), but Roger Scully has details together with those of Westminster and Assembly polls together with projections as to what it means in terms of seats for each:

  25. At the risk of doing Colin’s job for him, I notice that the CBI have said that manufacturing confidence is at its highest level since 1973, something I find rather astonishing and (subject to the usual caveats) very pleasing.
    It may have an effect on VI which is not to my taste (or may not) but sometimes I have to say “[email protected]**er the VI, that’s great news for the country”
    Of course 1973 is not a great precedent for the party in power or the country but I suppose a replay of the oil crisis is unlikely, though some version of the Yom Kippur War maybe less so.

  26. @ALEC ‘To be completely fair to the SNP, they have historically said that Shetland should be free to choose their own future’.

    For that they deserve credit. And, as with Scotland, let the Islanders decide their own destiny be it Scottish, British, Scandinavian or their own.

    This is by no means a general support of balkanisation, which I regard as pernicious, but rather a support for the rights of clearly separate entities that have, against their will, been taken out of a union they wished to remain in.

    With far more incendiary independence movements in Europe from demonstrably wealthier parts such as Catalonia and Venice, Scotland really should be under no illusions that the EU will welcome it with open arms.

    @OldNat I wasn’t confusing Orkney with Shetland, both they and the Outer Hebrides all have strong claims to secede from an ‘independent’ Scotland. But as you’re so good at all things Scottish, could you explain to me why (if the reports I read are correct) a kid born in Leeds pays more to attend a Scottish university than one from Lisbon – because on the face of it it looks a bit unfair?

  27. But as you’re so good at all things Scottish, could you explain to me why (if the reports I read are correct) a kid born in Leeds pays more to attend a Scottish university than one from Lisbon – because, on the face of it, it looks a bit unfair?
    “Full time students enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programs are charged an average tuition fee of approximately EUR 950 – 1250 per academic year. For third cycle programs (PhD degrees), the average tuition fee amounts to approximately EUR 2500 – 3000 per academic year.

    “Exchange students may be exempted from paying tuition fees at public institutions in Portugal depending on the agreement signed by the Portuguese institution and its counterpart abroad.” This type of reciprocity agreement might explain why Lisbon students pay less than Leeds students to study in Scotland.

  28. No student from the EU pays fees to Scottish universities (because it is against EU rules to discriminate against citizens of other member states) but students from rUK, uniquely, pay fees (because it’s not illegal to discriminate within a member state – unethical, perhaps, but legal)

  29. @ Guymonde

    I’ve heard that student loans for fees to English Universities must be given to EU students from outside the UK despite there being no legal way to enforce the repayment of loans from non-UK students.

  30. Interesting article by Polly Toynbee in the G spot “£5m for the Barclays boss is disgusting. But so is £71 for the unemployed”.

    The research / book she refers to may explain why a large part of the UK populace may not feel any or much benefit from a growing economy.

    I wonder how cynical people are when they hear the words “We’re all in this together” which I imagine will be repeated many times at the next GE…

  31. A rare 4 points for the Greens in today’s YouGov. A blip, or a little boost associated with the upcoming Euros?

  32. @oldnat

    “Some things to seem to be ingrained in national psyches, regardless of things like research, international practice etc etc. I’ve never really understood why that should happen.”


    Well you have suggested something similar before with regard to reading, and we differ on what the body of evidence suggests, and also on international practice. They don’t delay reading… they just delay the formal teaching, and parents are often expected to do more.

    I’m British, and was born here, but my parents were continentals, so it was normal for me to read before going to school… it was a bit of a shock when I discovered that they were now going to teach me to read all over again at school, only this time with a new alphabet of 36 letters…

    This is when I began to realise I was gonna have to get to grips with this education thing and take some control or they were gonna keep screwing things up…

    My partner when a deputy was part of a working group sent abroad to study kindergarten provision as part of a scheme to work on aiding transition from early years to key stage one. Reading was definitely part of early continental provision, just not taught formally. One-to-one for reading is more efficient than formal provision anyway…

    There is some method to the English way, though. In speeding things up and specialising earlier. Had its drawbacks, but also advantages, and it is useful to have something special and different when competing with the rest. I had a discussion about this with my tutor while up at Oxford, because the Continentals used to complain our degree couldn’t possibly be worth as much because didn’t take as long. Well, it didn’t need to because we were further along in the first place. Aged 19 we were using textbooks aimed at 23 year olds on their second degree elsewhere…

    Some pupils proceed quickly elsewhere of course, but they take matters more into their own hands to do that…

  33. @Carfrew

    I suspect that what your Continental friends and you were forgetting is that a UK first degree does not take a student to the level of many Continental first degrees. Whilst in Italy I was often referred to as “Dottore” – not quite PhD level but certainly a Masters or above – on the mistaken assumption that my professional qualification from a UK University was of that level. I did not disabuse the mistaken – but I did get a Masters later on returning to the UK……

  34. Wes,

    It could be random variation but I expect it’s to do with the European Elections and maybe Caroline Lucas being acquitted.

  35. Postage – except the UKIP up at both Tory and Lab expense by perhaps 1% off each.

    Will reverse, imo, for the GE of course or become WV.

  36. @ Roger Mexico and Billy Bob

    Roger, you may have wanted HBO to make a reality tv show entitled “District 33” and it hasn’t been made yet. But this may be the next best thing that plays on your idea: The Real House Candidates of Beverly Hills.

    I was at this debate actually. It was……interesting.

    And btw, Betsy Butler is finally on my s*** list.

    Billy Bob, I’m starting to see the Republican’s ads on tv. And yes, there is car wreck potential.

  37. Populus:

    Lab 35 (-1);
    Cons 35 (+2);
    LD 9 (-1);
    UKIP 13 (nc)

  38. @WES yes the Greens are quietly rising a little in a number of areas. For the Greens to go from 2-4% makes hardly a blip in the analysis, but is a hugely significant increase at ground level for them. There have been a couple of unreliable Vox Pop things that give them really high support, that at least shows they are still on the radar, particularly for young people.

    They have much more potential IMO. The collapse of the LibDems has the potential to send the sandalled in their direction.

    Over the years the Greens have expanded their brief from environmental issues into what is the nearest thing to a socialist agenda available. Goodness knows why there are all these tortuous efforts to unite the various Judean people’s fronts on the left, when the Greens already have an agenda as close to Owen Jones and Ken Loach as makes no difference.

  39. Noticeable drop in SNP support on these latest Populus figures. MOE? Too small a sample? Scottish Labour rallying to the cause?

    One swallow doesn’t make a spring……. either way you want it.

  40. @BRAMLEY – oh crikey it’s happened ‘Crossover!!!!’

    Also worth noting that there have been two recent but unreported YouGov polls that gave Ukip 15%. Looks like Ukip may be munching into the Labour vote now.

  41. Morning everyone,

    Populus – Level Pegging – Uhmmm

    Crossover looming or is Populus simply an odd ball?

  42. Level pegging……
    Welcome back Sine :-)

  43. Do others find Populus methods a tad confusing ?

    If you look at some of the data (page 3), it appears that of those intending to vote if there was an election tomorrow, 34% would vote Labour and 29% would vote Tory. This is what the unweighted data reveals. Then with weighting to get the sample as they want it, they have an overall 35 each.

  44. Mr Beeswax
    @BRAMLEY – oh crikey it’s happened ‘Crossover!!!!’

    (Assume pantomime voice) Oh no it hasn’t.

    Crossover happens when we see a Con lead – something that hasn’t happened in any poll since March 2012.

    Now calm down before you get the children all excited !

  45. crossover is bound to happen in one poll soon. whether it’s significant or not is another question. populus have been showing much closer polls since they changed their methodology in feb. or march this year.

  46. Crossbat

    Wishful thinking on your part that most people have ‘made up their minds’. The focus over the next 12 months is ‘do you want Red Ed as PM’ and ‘do you want to help him become PM by voting UKIP’

    There will be plenty who are saying they will vote Labour/UKIP now who will change their opinion, however grudgingly, when it really matters.

  47. @BRAMLEY – spoilsport.

  48. On the Populus poll-

    Labour remain within the 36-40 range, barring outliers.

    What’s interesting about the falling lead is that it seems to be driven less by the Tories doing better and more by Labour doing worse.

  49. all the data points to a labour administration and has done for the last two years. the idea that hordes of voters are suddenly going to switch to deliver victory to cameron is simply wishful thinking.

    I still believe that something fundamental has to switch for the tories to have a chance and time is running out.

    ignorance of the electoral maths is endemic among the media and among some bloggers on this sight. labour 33 con 36 still gives labour more seats than the tories. As smithson points out the tories will probably have to beat labour by 4 points to be the largest party. possible, of course, but very difficult.

  50. @Pressman

    Given the Press’s 1992 record we can expect both UKIP and Labour to benefit from the extra coverage. Has no one in Fleet Street heard of the old adage that ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’?

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