3 in 5 Britons would prefer utilities to be publicly owned and operated

By contrast, 23% think utilities should be owned and operated privately according to a new Ipsos survey.

The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs
  • Laura King Public Affairs
  • Jordana Moser Associate Research Director
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New Ipsos polling has found that more than half of the public (61%) think utilities should be publicly owned and operated. This includes 40% who think this should be the case under all circumstances, with the remainder (22%) preferring public ownership but saying they should be able to be privatised under certain circumstances. By contrast, 23% think utilities should be owned and operated privately, including 8% who think this should be the case under all circumstances and 15% who think they should be able to be nationalised under certain circumstances.

On balance, which of the following best describes your view of how utilities (such as electricity, gas, water, and trains) should be owned and operated within Britain? Utilities in Britain should be… Publicly owned and operated under all circumstances 40% Publicly owned and operated, but should be able to be privatised under certain circumstances 22% Privately owned and operated, but should be able to be nationalised under certain circumstances 15% Privately owned and operated under all circumstances 8% Don't know 16% Net: Should be publicly owned and operated 61% Net: Should be privately owned and operated 23%
When asked about their support or opposition for specific utilities being nationalised, the largest share of the public supported the nationalisation of water (68%; vs 9% who oppose). Similarly high levels of support were seen for trains (65% vs 10%) and gas/electricity (63% vs 10%). Britons were more divided about whether they would support or oppose the nationalisation of broadband, with 2 in 5 (39%) saying they would support and 1 in 4 (23%) saying they would oppose it.

To what extent, if at all, would you support or oppose nationalising each of the following utilities in Britain? % Support / Oppose  Water 68% / 9% Trains 65% / 10% Gas/electricity 63% / 10% Postal services 60% / 12% Other public transport (i.e. buses, trams, tubes) 58% / 13% Broadband 39% / 23%
The most common aspect of utility service that Britons expect to improve should they be nationalised is price, with 3 in 5 (58%) expecting it to get better and only 12% expecting it to get worse. Britons are similar bullish about the potential for improvement in utility service quality (53% expect it to improve compared to 14% who expect it to worsen), efficiency (51% vs 16%), and standard of customer service (48% vs 13%). Though only 2 in 5 (38%) expect innovativeness to improve if services were to be nationalised, this still exceeds the 1 in 5 (18%) who expect innovativeness to get worse.

Thinking about each of the following aspects of utilities, do you think they would get better or worse if utilities were to be nationalised, or would there be no change? Bettter / No Change / Worse  Price 58% / 17% / 12% Quality of service provided 53% / 20% / 14% Efficiency 51% / 21% / 16% Standard of customer service 48% / 27% / 13% Innovativeness 38% / 30% / 18%

Commenting on the findings, Ipsos Research Director Keiran Pedley said:

This data shows that clear majorities of Britons instinctively support public ownership of various utilities – aside from broadband where views are more mixed. Given the general view is that utilities being in public hands would improve the price and quality of service provided, it is perhaps unsurprising that 6 in 10 prefer utilities in public hands overall. However, it should be said that many recognise utilities could be best run privately in certain circumstances.

Technical note

Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,000 adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain. Interviews took place on the online Omnibus between 18th-20th July 2023. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of errors.

The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner Public Affairs
  • Cameron Garrett Public Affairs
  • Laura King Public Affairs
  • Jordana Moser Associate Research Director

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