No such thing as society? A majority of the public agree with Lady Thatcher, when they hear the full context.
The polling company Ipsos MORI has tested two versions of Margaret Thatcher’s famous “no such thing as society” interview, each with representative samples of the population – one with just that simple statement, and one with a much longer excerpt from the interview. And there is a dramatic difference in results: 74% disagree with the bald statement, but 63% agreed with the longer excerpt (only 25% disagreed with the longer statement). The full results can be found at the bottom of the page here.
There is no difference in agreement between supporters of different parties for the simple statement – most disagree (73% Conservatives vs. 79% Labour). Nevertheless, there is a big difference between supporters on the longer excerpt. Eighty per cent of Conservative Party supporters agree with the longer excerpt from Mrs Thatcher’s interview for Woman’s Own magazine whereas only 39% Labour Party supporters agree.
Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute said:
“There has been much discussion of the intention of the simple quote – with some suggesting that it was intended to mean that society cannot be thought of as a “thing”, rather than a complete denial of commonality. This seems to be the first time that the full context has been tested with the public in a poll, and suggests that the broader sentiment behind it resonates with a majority people in 2013.
But it also still divides opinion, with a marked difference in agreement between Conservative and Labour voters. This probably reflects their distinct views of the role of the state, but it may also reflect opinions of Mrs Thatcher, given the statement is still so deeply associated with her.”
Ryan Bourne, Head of Economic Research at the Centre for Policy Studies said:
“For years political opponents of Lady Thatcher have sought to misrepresent her distinction between the state and society by selectively quoting the “no such thing as society” extract. But tracing back the origins of the term to the Centre for Policy Studies offices, it became clear what she meant was that the state and society are not one and the same. In reality, society is made up of individuals and families with their own responsibilities and aspirations. She was thus lamenting a culture in which people assumed it was automatically the job of the collective through the state to solve their problems.
This polling by Ipsos-MORI shows that while Labour supporters in particular oppose this viewpoint, a large majority of the UK public agree with her sentiments when shown the full context. This perhaps explains why she was so successful electorally but yet so despised by many Labour opponents.”
Read Tim Knox's blog on the correct context of Lady Thatcher's famous quote.