This week’s YouGov results for the Sunday Times are here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 32%, LAB 35%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%. This is a second YouGov poll in a row showing a three point lead. That could possibly be an impact from a week spent on the topic of tax avoidance, but equally it could easily just normal random error spitting out a couple of polls with above average leads in a row.

Most of the rest of the YouGov poll concentrates on that issue: HSBC, tax avoidance and evasion and party funding. Public opinion is predictably hostile towards HSBC – 80% think it’s unacceptable for banks to actively help their clients avoid tax, 75% unacceptable for them to turn a blind eye to clients doing things to avoid tax. By 71% to 15% people think that HSBC should face criminal investigation.

Blame for allowing banks to assist clients with avoiding tax is fairly evenly spread between Labour and the Conservatives. 21% think the last Labour government was more to blame, 14% that the current coalition government is more to blame, but 44% think both equally. Looking forwards, Labour have a lead on which party would do the most to tackle tax avoidance and evasion – 23% to the Conservatives’ 16%, though 50% of people said none or don’t know, suggesting little real faith in any of the parties to address the issue (compare and contrast this to the ComRes poll yesterday that showed Miliband and Cameron equal on 31% on the issue – that may be the effect of asking about leaders rather than parties, or perhaps it was because YouGov made it easier for people to say neither).

Moving onto party funding the public are critical of both the Conservative’s reliance on business funding and Labour’s reliance on Union funding. By 48% to 30% people think Labour should try and reduce Union funding, by 52% to 25% people think the Conservatives should try and reduce their business funding. More broadly only 24% of people think that donors give money purely to support a party, 68% think they do so also (19%) or mainly (49%) in the hope of getting something in return like honours or influence. Around two thirds of people would support a cap on business and trade union donations, 51% would support a cap on individual donations to political parties. There is little support though for state funding – only 19% would support taxpayer funding with 59% opposed. Even a forced choice between the current situation of a labour party getting trade union funds & a Conservative party getting business funds or a system of state funding, people would prefer the status quo by 63% to 37%.

New Coke, the sweeter reformulation of Coca-Cola that the company launched in the 1980s, is remembered as a failure of market research or at least, of the interpretation of market research. Surveys in advance, focus groups and taste tests preferred the new version of Coke. When it actually launched there was a negative backlash. People didn’t like their Coke being messed with and Coca-Cola eventually reversed and went back to the old formula. It’s a classic example of how a product that tests well in the artificial environment of a survey or taste test doesn’t necessarily perform the same way “in the wild”, when subject to the full chaotic system of public opinion.

This isn’t going to be a post about Coca-Cola market research strategy in the 1980s – I am sure it was far more complicated than the myths that have grown up about it – rather this polling from YouGov for the Times about NHS spending. At the weekend some of the papers reported that Labour were considering an increase in National Insurance contributions to help fund the NHS. YouGov asked people directly about this – would they like to see the basic level of National Insurance go up from 12p to 13p to help fund the NHS – indeed, people would, by 48% to 37%.

Politicians have in the past tended to use National Insurance as a rise that is less noticeable to the public than income tax, even though for salaried employees it is much the same thing (obviously it has different thresholds, but it’s still essentially an extra 1% of your salary deducted at source). I was a little cynical about that – did it really work, or do people treat it just the same? Or even, would people prefer the honesty of an income tax rise? YouGov asked the same question using a rise in the basic rate of income tax. Funded from income tax its the other way around, 34% support it, 51% are opposed. It looks as it the ruse works – if the extra 1% of people’s wages is labelled a NI rise, people support it. If it’s labelled an income tax rise, people oppose it.

Of course there are technical differences between NI and income tax (the way it affects the self-employed, or isn’t paid by pensioners, or is paid by people on lower pay than income tax is) and in theory they could contribute to the difference. I suspect most of the answer is simply that people are more aware of income tax and how it works and understand national insurance less well. Hence they are less supportive of a tax rise when they understand exactly how they’ll be paying it.

To bring it back to the New Coke analogy though, what does the question tell us about the policy? Would it be a popular thing for Labour to promise? Well, I think it tells us there’s a risk there. If support for a tax rise is conditional upon people not understanding it very well it does pose the question of what would happen if they had it explained to them, or even “misexplained” to them (remember how a National Insurance rise was packaged up as a “Labour jobs tax” by the Tories before the last election?). Essentially people like spending more on the NHS, they generally dislike paying more taxes (YouGov also asked if people would support keeping income tax, NI and health spending the same – people supported that too!). In the artificial scenario of a polling question you can link those two things and force people to consider them as one, you can use a form of tax people answering the question aren’t so familiar with. If it was an actual party policy, it would be out there being debated by parties, reported by the media, discussed in the pub. Would it be a discussion about how Labour are willing to make the hard but necessary decisions on providing the funding for the future of the NHS? Or would it be a discussion about how Labour would be putting up ordinary people’s taxes? Until a policy goes out into the wild that’s not an easy question to answer.


The full tables for the YouGov/Sunday Times survey are now up here, largely covering the Labour leadership and atttitudes towards taxes on the rich.

The comparisons between Ed Miliband and David Cameron show the regular pattern we’ve seen in other polling and in the Opinium poll last night: Cameron is regarded as a stronger leader, more decisive and more likeable. He is also seen as having a clearer vision for the country and a better strategy of the economy. Where Cameron falls down, and Miliband has the advantage, is in being seen as in touch with ordinary people where Ed leads by 40% to 19%. On being trustworthy there is very little to choose between the two men.

On Ed Miliband’s leadership in particular, only 23% of people say he has made it clear what he stands for, 58% think he has not. 31% think he has been too close to the trade unions, 35% think he has not been close enough to business – surprisingly perhaps, given the often hostile attitudes polls find towards big business. While people saying Miliband is too anti-business are largely Conservative supporters, even 20% of Labour voters think Miliband has been too anti-business.

While Miliband’s ratings remain poor, he is seem as a much more appealing leader than Ed Balls or Yvetter Cooper. In both cases more people say Balls or Cooper would make them less likely to vote Labour than say they would make them more likely to vote Labour. Ed is, however, still seen as less appealing than his brother. 18% of people say they would be more likely to vote Labour with David Miliband as leader compared to only 7% who would be less likely.

Turning to taxes on the wealthy, 55% of people think that rich people are not paying enough tax and should pay more. Asked at what point higher taxes on the rich should cut in, the median point of those who gave an answer was £100,000.

However, while there is widespread support for more tax on the rich, this doesn’t necessarily translate into support for wealth taxes on the rich, as opposed to income taxes on the rich. When YouGov asked whether people thought it was fairer to tax wealth or income, 69% said income to only 22% who thought it fairer to tax wealth.

They also tested whether people generally saw the rich as making a positive or negative contribution to the country and found a fairly even split – 30% of people thought that rich people generally make a positive contribution to the country, 38% of people think they make a negative one. This goes to explain some of the other attitudes to taxes on the rich – 67% of people think that increasing taxes on the rich risks driving wealthy people abroad, but two thirds of those would support it anyway.

This week’s YouGov results for the Sunday Times are now up here.

The topline voting intention figures are CON 35%, LAB 41%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 7%. The six point Labour lead is unusual, typically YouGov have been showing Labour leads of around 9-10 points for the last few months. In the absence of any big announcements or developments that could explain a big drop, I would urge caution… sure, it could be the sign of some Conservative recovery, but just as likely it is random sample error. The rest of the survey concentrates on the economy, wealth taxes, Nick Clegg, Heathrow and honours.

28% of people think the government’s economic policy is basically right (including almost three-quarters of Tory supporters), 56% think it is basically wrong. People unhappy with the current strategy though are divided over what changes they would make – 24% of them would like bigger spending cuts to fund tax cuts, 21% would like the opposite – tax increases to reduce spending cuts. 17% would like more short-term borrowing to reduce spending cuts, 4% would like more short-term borrowing to fund tax cuts. 35% say they would like something else or that they don’t know.

Turning to the question of a wealth tax, 57% of people support the principle of such a tax, with 29% opposed. The most popular cut off point for a wealth tax is £1 million (supported by 34%). 19% would support a lower threshold than this, 35% a higher one. There is a noticable regional pattern here, with people in London much more likely to oppose a wealth tax and supporting higher thresholds if there is one.

Arguments about taxes on the rich damaging the country do not have much cut through. While 66% people think that there is some risk that high taxes on the wealthy will drive them abroad, two-thirds of them still think it is the right thing to do under the present circumstances. 48% of people think that higher taxes on the rich will raise more money even taking into account this risk (31% disagree). Overall 39% of people think higher taxes on the wealthy would help an economic recovery compared to 18% who think it would damage the chances of an economic recovery (31% think it will make no real difference).

Moving onto questions about Nick Clegg, 17% of people see him as an asset to the government compared to 58% who think he is a liability. These figures are almost identical to George Osborne (16% asset, 58% liability) putting the two of them as the lowest rated of the politicians YouGov asked about. The most positively rated by some distance was William Hague – 43% of people think he is an asset, compared to 29% who think he is a liability.

30% of people say that Clegg should remain as leader, compared to 40% who think he should be replaced. However, asked whether they think the Liberal Democrats would do better at the next election if they keep Clegg or replace him only 18% think they’d do better with Clegg, compared to 53% who think they would do better if they changed. Amongst the Liberal Democrat party’s own supporters 60% think that the party should keep Nick Clegg… but only 31% think that the party would do better with Clegg at the next election. 47% of Lib Dem supporters think they would do better with someone else.

Amongst those who think the Lib Dems would do better if they changed 28% think they would do best under Vince Cable, far above all the other Lib Dem politicians in the question but less than those who said None or Don’t know (43%). A significant part of questions like this are simple name recognition – Vince is a very well known politician, while other serious contenders like Tim Farron are very little known outside the circles of we political anoraks!

Turning to the subject of Heathrow, 35% of people support Heathrow expansion, 32% oppose it and 33% don’t know. However, when asked specifically about whether David Cameron should keep his manifesto pledge on Heathrow only 19% of people think he should break it and go ahead with Heathrow expansion. 35% think he should rule it out and 32% think he should reconsider the issue at the next election.

Finally on the honours systems, people think too many awards go to figures from entertainment (69% too many), senior civil servants (61% too many), national politicians (67% too many), local politicians (48% too many), sportsmen and women (39% too many) and business leaders (37% too many). They would like to see more awards go to people from charities (71% not enough), scientists and academics (64% not enough) and people working in the public services (66% not enough).

Tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sun has topline figures of CON 34%, LAB 42%, LDEM 9%. This is the first voting intention poll conducted wholly after the budget, though much of it was before this morning’s newspapers and the continuing media coverage we’ve had today (for the record, YouGov’s actual fieldwork times are from around about 5.30pm yesterday until around about 4pm this afternoon)

The eight point Labour lead equals the largest this year. It could be a budget knock for the Conservatives, though it is worth remembering that we also had another eight point lead earlier this week before the budget (in so much as it can be “before” a budget that had been so widely leaked), so it could be normal margin of error.

The YouGov poll has various other questions on the budget. The increase in the personal tax allowance is predictably popular, with 90% of people supporting the change. There are also solid majorities in favour of the cut in corporation tax, allowing shops to open on Sundays during the Olympics and the increaase in stamp duty on homes worth more than £2million.

Turning to the more controversial measures, 55% of people opposed the decision to cut the 50p tax rate to 45p, with 32% in support. The opposition to this measure is less strong than most of the pre-budget polling on the question – the difference is largely because polls before the budget tended to show Conservative voters opposed to the abolition of the 50p tax rate. The post-budget poll shows 60% of Tory voters in favour. Part of this might be because people are happier with a 45p compromise than abolishing the band completely, but a lot is probably Conservative supporters being more supportive of a policy when the Conservatives actually do it.

Where they haven’t done that is the least popular part of the budget, which predictably is the “granny tax”. Only 18% of people support increasing taxes paid by pensioners by phasing out the age-related tax allowance, with 64% opposed. This includes 57% of the Conservative party’s own voters and, as one might expect, 79% of people over the age of 60.

Overall just under a third of people (32%) think the budget is fair, compared to 48% who think it is unfair. To put this in context, YouGov asked the same question after last year’s budget and found 44% thought that budget was fair.

The survey also asked people whether they thought different income groups would end up paying more or less in tax as a result of the budget. 46% thought poorer people would pay less in tax, and 56% thought that the richest people in Britain will end up paying less tax. In contrast, 40% think people on average incomes will end up paying more, compared to just 23% who think they will gain and asked about “people like themselves” 21% of people think’ll end up paying less tax, 37% think they’ll end up paying more.

All this suggests the budget has not gone down well. What remains to be seen now is whether there is any real knock to voting intention once we’ve got some more polls to judge by (as ever, one should never put too much weight on one poll) and, if so, whether it lasts once the immediate negative coverage of the budget fades.