Britain feels good - but expects a hangover

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The Independent Online
ON THE eve of 1996, the British are in party-going mood again, suggesting that the elusive "feel-good factor" is on its way back at last.

Four in 10 people aged 16-54 plan to celebrate New Year's Eve at a party tonight, against only three in 10 at the depths of the recession in 1991. According to a MORI poll for the Independent on Sunday, the increase in festive spirit is particularly marked among younger Britons. On the eve of 1992, only 37 per cent of 16 to 34-year-olds planned a night out on the tiles; tonight, more than half, 52 per cent, intend to go to a party.

And they expect to suffer for it, too. Over a quarter, 28 per cent, expect to have a hangover tomorrow, against only 19 per cent four years ago.

More people expect to spend the night in the pub, too - 24 per cent this year, against 21 per cent in 1991. That may seem a small percentage difference but it could represent an extra 750,000 customers. Restaurant owners, too, have cause to rejoice - in our poll, 14 per cent of people said they expected to go out for a meal tonight, against 8 per cent in 1991, representing more than 1,500,000 extra customers.

At the other end of the scale, fewer people plan to stay at home and watch TV - 22 per cent, against 34 per cent in 1991. The number intending to stay at home and spend the evening with friends or relatives is also down - 26 per cent, against 34 per cent. And those who expect to go to bed before midnight are down from 9 per cent to 7 per cent. They include 13 per cent of 35 to 54-year-olds and they are more likely to vote Conservative and to live in rural areas.

The poll also exposes marked regional differences. Over a third, 34 per cent, of Scots and English northerners expect to suffer a hangover tomorrow, compared with fewer than a quarter, 23 per cent, of midlanders and southerners. Scots, northerners and midlanders are more likely to spend the evening in the pub - 28 per cent - than southerners - 17 per cent.

One thing has hardly changed at all. This year, 28 per cent intended to make a New Year's resolution, against 27 per cent in 1991.

As we reported last week, MORI found that people planned to spend more on Christmas presents this year - another sign that the British feel better off. But Cabinet ministers should not yet assume that their troubles are over. The Economic Optimism Index - the difference between the percentage expecting the next year to be better for them and those expecting it to be worse - was +3 in December 1991; at the beginning of this month, it was -16.

And our poll suggests that, even if people plan to go out more, they are still not in a mood for splashing out. The proportion planning to hold their own New Year's party, 10 per cent, is unchanged from four years ago. The inescapable conclusion is that, if you do go out to a party tonight, you will find it a great deal more crowded than you would have done in 1991.

MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,003 British adults, aged 16 to 54, face to face, in 72 constituency sampling points throughout Great Britain on 19-20 December.

Professor Robert M Worcester is chairman of MORI.