At the end of conference season voting intention is pretty much as it was at the beginning – a Conservative lead of 3 or 4 points. Each party enjoyed a small boost during and straight after their own conference – the Lib Dems peaked up at 15% in YouGov’s daily polls, Labour went into the lead during their conference and the Conservatives re-established their lead during their own conference. In short, conference season was a score-draw.
Some of the underlying figures though suggest the Conservatives won the economic arguments during the conference season. The proportion of people thinking the government’s cuts would be good for the economy rose to 50%, up 10 points since the start of conference season and the highest since June. The proportion thinking the cuts were being done fairly rose to 39%, up 9 since before the conference and the highest since July (though more people, 46%, still think they are unfair). The proportion of people blaming the spending cuts on Labour rather than the coalition also rose – 47% think Labour is most to blame, 17% think the coalition are most to blame, once again, the coalition’s best position since June.
These all set the coalition in good stead for what’s ahead, but could all be completely reversed come the announcement of the cuts in a fortnight’s time.
Another measure worth noting is YouGov’s regular tracker on party image. On which party “its leaders are prepared to take tough and unpopular decisions” best applies to, following their conference the Conservatives hit 62%, with Labour dropping to 11% – their highest and equal lowest respectively (and the most lop-sided of any of the party image questions). Even amongst Labour voters the phrase was seen as applying more to the Conservatives.
Back in June the budget itself was surprisingly positively received, considering its main planks were the announcement of large cuts and an unpopular hike in VAT. Presumably the reasons were that people did see the cuts as necessary, did see the government as cleaning up a mess that was not their fault, and saw the government as making “tough and unpopular” but necessary decisions. If the public reaction to the CSR is the same then it won’t necessarily be a huge negative. My expectation however is that people will still react much more negatively to specific cuts and that Labour will move ahead after the CSR, but time will tell.
Other party image trackers worth looking at are “it seems rather old and tired” and “it seems to have succeeded in moving on and left its past behind it”. The proportion of people seeing Labour as “old and tired” has fallen steadily since the general election – in May 54% thought they seemed old and tired, now it’s dropped to 39%. On “moving on and leaving its past behind it” the election of Ed Miliband saw Labour rise from 15% to 19%, their highest since the election. A lot further to go of course, but a first step towards renewing the Labour party.