YouGov on taxation

Ahead of their normal monthly poll later in the week, YouGov have separate poll in today’s Telegraph asking about taxation (presumably commissioned in response to the Conservatives’ policy commission on tax). Asked which party would handle taxation the best, the Conservatives lead Labour slightly, 25% to 20%. This is lower than at the last election, but the difference is mostly because of a huge leap in don’t knows, from 22% in 2005 to 45% now, mostly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats who are down to 8% from 19% last time. Obviously this could be lots of disillusionned supporters of a 50p top rate who are spurning the Lib Dems, but I expect the explanation is rather less exciting and rather more straight forward. The Tories haven’t put forward any plans and the Lib Dems no longer have an easily communicated plan, so most people genuinely don’t know.

Overall slightly more people (43%) agree with the statement “large scale tax cuts would make little difference to the rate of economic growth and would benefit those who are already well off at the expense of everyone else” than agree with the statement “large scale tax cuts would provide incentives for individuals and businesses and increase the rate of economic growth, thereby helping everyone” (36%). Given the choice 25% of people say they would like to see taxes cut, even if it did mean a reduction in government services, 23% of people are happy as things are and 34% would like to see government services extended even if it meant tax rises. Interestingly, even a plurality of Conservative voters (43%) would like to see the level of tax and spending stay the same or rise, with 41% of Tory voters saying they would rather both tax and spending fell.

People being positive about high taxes does not, of course, mean they are positive about paying more taxes themselves. Opinion polls invariably show that people would like people richer than themselves to pay more taxes so they can pay less. 69% of people told YouGov they thought the present tax system was unfair and 61% though they personally paid too much in tax (only 1% thought they paid too little). 65% thought that poor people paid too much in tax, 51% thought that people on middle incomes paid too much, and 54% thought that “rich people” paid too little.

Looking specifically at the Conservative party’s position on tax, more people do say they would more likely to vote Conservative if they committed themselves to cutting taxes (28%) than say it would make them less likely (14%). (As any long time readers will know, I’m not a fan of questions like this. I think people know full well the context of the question and how it will be presented in the press and use it to say whether they approve or disapprove of a policy, even if they are actually a hardcore voter who it will make no difference to. Normally YouGov minimise this problem by giving options of “no difference, would vote Tory anyway” and “no difference, wouldn’t vote Tory anyway” but this question hasn’t even got that).

The mantra of the present party leadership in saying they will put economic stability before tax cuts seems to resonate with voters – 69% of people say they would put economic stability first, as would 73% of Tory voters (though it begs the question of how many people would actally think “to hell with economic stability, give me tax cuts!” I suspect many of the 17% of people who did say that did so because they thought that there was no dichotomy, and tax cuts would not endanger economic stability).

However, the vulnerable position the party would put themselves in if they moved towards adopting Lord Forsyth’s recommends is very clear. Last weeks announcement was followed by accusations from Labour that the figures did not add up and cuts would have to be made. Asked if £21 billion could be cut from taxes without damaging the quality of public services only 36% agreed, with 45% disagreeing. Whether or not the savings could be made, it is obvious that a large proportion of the electorate would be very receptive to accusations from other parties that tax cuts would automatically mean damaging public services.

YouGov also asked about some specific tax cuts and rises. The most popular tax cut was a reduction in the basic rate of income tax, followed by stamp duty on houses and inheritance tax. There was very little support for a cut in corporation tax and the abolition of stamp duty on share transactions – cuts which would either not directly benefit individuals to a noticable extent. On transport tax there was strong opposition to increasing fuel duty for cars…but support for increased taxation of flights. 51% of people supported tax on short haul flights and 52% supported it on long-haul flights.

Apart from the airline taxes, which are an unusual case of people supporting a tax rise they themselves might have to pay, the overall picture is the same one that nearly always turns up in surveys on taxation. Most people do not think tax cuts can be made without spending cuts, people tend to favour more spending, funded by higher taxes on people richer than they themselves are, asked about themselves personally, people would like to pay less tax, presumably, since they don’t favour spending cuts, funded by higher taxes on people who are richer than themselves.

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