Onward is a new center-right think tank in Britain. I never heard of them before, but I ran into this poll they commissioned and published. It is based over some 5,000 interviews and it looks like a serious thing. The gist of it is basically that Tory voters tend to care more about “security” than about “freedom”.

Here are some points of interest:

In total, 65% of respondents favored security, compared to 35% who chose society based on freedom.
… 71% of people think that “more people living in cities has made society worse”, compared to 29% who think it has made society better.
… 61% of people believe that “on the whole, jobs and wages have been made worse by technological change”.
… 66% of people think that “globalization has not benefited most people”.
… Among Conservative considerers, net support for rather living “in a society that focuses on giving people more security” (46%) is twice as high among non-Conservative considerers (22%).

Clearly Onward publishes these results aiming to influence British policymaking: they think Boris Johnson should “move on from freedom and give these voters the security they crave”. But what do these results say to people who think in the opposite way, like me and—I suppose—most of the readers of this blog?

To me, they tell basically one thing: ideas have consequences. Conservative voters seem not to be immune from ideas that have been propagated all across the political spectrum, in a wide variety of publications and in most of the education system. If you read the papers, you are very likely to pick up the idea that “globalization has not benefited most people.” There are a handful of journalists and commentators that hold the opposite to be true, and write accordingly. Likewise, the presumption that we suffer from “too much liberty,” at least in the economic sphere, is not the view of a niche of extremists, but rather quite a “mainstream” viewpoint.

Here’s the thing. The Zeitgeist hasn’t been particularly friendly to the cause of markets and economic liberty. Laymen tend to absorb political ideas, no matter how big is the brush with which they are painted, from experts and media. Then, as soon as the polls reflect that such a process has actually taken place, somebody reacts calling to the wisdom of the crowd, that (in the English Tory case) eventually emancipated herself from the shibboleths of Thatcherism.

The problem here, for people like us, is that in this game we are represented as if our ideas were those shared by the establishment, by the ruling elites. They never were, but they were represented as such. A bit of a reality check about a few key facts (the level of government spending, the growth of regulation, et cetera) will suffice to avoid such a representation, but who has the incentive to do so?

Politicians naturally work to maximize their power, and intellectuals and think tanks are all the more likable when they give them reasons to do so. Free marketers are rare birds and, in a sense, it is surprising enough when a few of them survive in the political arena.