In the 1930s Pyke got interested in opinion polling and was one of the founders of Mass Observation. As World War II approached, Pyke convinced himself that if he could find out and publicize the actual opinions of Germans about Hitler and his plans for war, he could somehow either shame Hitler out of attacking Poland or even drive him out of power. In the summer of 1939 he recruited ten volunteers who spoke good German and sent them all to Germany to ask people a fixed list of ten questions. The idea was to engage people in conversation and then ask the questions as casually as possible. Pyke encouraged the volunteers to perform as mad Englishmen (one took his golf clubs), acting too silly and British to be taken for spies. Since Hitler at that point was still hoping that Britain would not go to war over Poland, these crazy British tourists were monitored by the Gestapo but tolerated.
And what did they find out?
According to their survey, most Germans did not think Hitler's desire for territorial conquest justified war. Nor did they think war was imminent. 'Though they admitted the political situation was dangerous,' explained Raleigh, 'they seemed to have perfect faith in the fact that Hitler didn't want war and could obtain what he wanted without precipitating one.' Equally surprising, and key, was the high proportion of those interviewed who were either fed up with the government or professed no opinion. Ambivalence about the Nazi regime – given its nature and the effort required to be anything other than supportive – suggested that these subjects were closer to being anti-Nazi in sentiment than pro-Nazi. A surprising number of people wanted a war just to see Germany lose, as this would mean the end of Nazi rule. Others opened up about their dislike of anti-Semitic discrimination, one man confiding in Smith that he had recently been playing the Violin Concerto in E Minor by Mendelssohn, a banned Jewish composer. 'If that's bad music,' he had said, 'then it's bad government.' . . .
Using a modified version of the Gallup technique, based on 232 completed conversations, they estimated that just 16 percent of the German population felt that territorial conquest justified war. If there was a conflict, just over a third of those interviewed wanted Hitler and Germany to lose. Only 19 percent imagined German was capable of victory if facing an alliance of Britain, France, Russia, and Poland, while more than half the German population felt the Nazi Party was unjust in its treatment of society, failing to treat rich and poor alike. Sixty percent of those Germans they spoke to disapproved of the government's attitude towards Jews.Of course this was just a few hundred people, and the sample could have been biased since by definition they were all willing to talk to Englishmen about politics. That did not exclude Nazis, since they did talk to a few quite rabid Hitlerites, but you can certainly see how this might have tilted the findings. But these findings fit with other facts, such as that the Nazis never actually won an election. If Hitler ever had the real support of a majority of Germans, it was only for a brief period in 1940-41, and personally I doubt that.
But it didn't matter. Modern history shows that a highly motivated, highly organized minority can take over great states and mold them to its will, creating situations in which personal opinion matters not at all.
Quotations are from Henry Hemming, The Ingenious Mr. Pyke (2015), pp. 200, 214.