The impact of public opinion

September 14, 2011, 11:15 PM GMT+0

Last week we held a two-day forum to launch YouGov-Cambridge, a new think-tank that unites world-class thinkers with research data to understand the role that public opinion plays in decision-making within politics and business.

Themed 'Consumer networks and the diffusion of power' with guests such as Jimmy Wales, Steve Hilton, Nassim Taleb and Imran Khan, we debated the thesis that in our networked digital society, those in power must now inevitably follow public/consumer opinion rather than lead themselves. Kate Robertson talked about the importance that business be transparent and authentic in this new world.

Those were themes that repeated through the forum; when talking about the Arab Spring, leveraging the power of the online consumer or the global economic crisis. It is the latter that I want to look at today.

The August data from YouGov’s Household Economic Activity Tracker (HEAT) shows clearly that the public of the UK and US are concerned and have little confidence in their governments to resolve things.

The slight boost in confidence during the spring has dissipated and the trend line is downwards again. The UK is at net -31 and the US net -9, and even the Chinese have seen a steady decline from +54 in February to +37 now.

People are not confident in their governments’ ability to handle the economy; in terms of confidence compared to a month ago the UK is at -35 net and the US is at -63 net.

One of the questions asked of the panel of Paul Mason, Vicky Pryce and Lord Griffiths was what constraints does public opinion put on the actions that leaders need to take to deal with the crisis. I will use this space over the next few weeks to explore the public opinion that will inevitably shape the economic debate in the times ahead.