Economic Optimism

The big leap in Liberal Democrat support isn’t the only surprise in today’s MORI poll. As I wrote in the update below, there is also a big jump in economic optimism. I thought it might be a good time to take a wider look at economic optimism.

The graph above shows four regular monthly trackers of economic optimism. GfK NOP and Ipsos MORI both ask people each month if they think the economy will get better or worse over the next 12 months – these are the net figures of those thinking better minus those thinking worse. TNS ask a similar question for the Nationwide, but asking about the next 6 months. YouGov in the Telegraph polls ask about how people think their own household will fare over the next 12 months.

As you can see from the graph, economic optimism reached it’s low point back in summer 2008. There was a big jump in economic confidence after the bail out package in the Autumn, but it slumped again as we headed into January 2009 and several high street stores went to the wall. Now it appears to be heading upwards again. No one else has recorded anything like the boost that MORI have, but so far their’s is the only April data we have, so we might yet see it reflected elsewhere.

What does this mean politically? Firstly it depends if it is matched by reality, if optimism rises, but then more bad news comes along, it poses an obvious risk to Labour. If signs of economic recovery come along to support the new optimism, then it’s harder to say. One possiblity is that increased optimism will be reflected in increased support for the incumbent, but it isn’t necessarily that straighforward. There is an argument that with the crisis passed people will be less risk adverse and have more of an appetite for change. Labour now are still in a better position than they were before the economic crisis really took hold last autumn, in my opinion part of that is Labour are more united now, but part of it is probably also that many people still trust Gordon Brown as the right man to deal with an economic crisis, begging the question of what happens if the economic crisis passes…

UPDATE: For the record, here’s the average of those four economic optimism trackers, plotted alongside the average Labour lead in the polls each month.

Still some relationship there, though not a rock solid one. The recovery in economic optimism since the start of the year hasn’t yet been reflected in any recovery in Labour’s position.

Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor also shows Labour down since “smeargate”, but the overwhelming benificaries are the Liberal Democrats. The full topline figures with changes from last month are CON 41%(-1), LAB 28%(-4), LDEM 22%(+8)!

Any polls showing a party moving by 8 points deserves some degree of scepticism, though of course, the broad trend here – a further slump in labour support with people moving over to the Lib Dems is the same as in the Marketing Sciences poll, though obviously not to the same scale. In contrast it obviously doesn’t tally with ICM’s poll.

From a period when the polls were all very static and telling the same story, things are suddenly a lot more muddy. I’ve have a closer look at this poll later on when the tables appear.

UPDATE: The full results from MORI are now up on their website here, though the actual tables haven’t surfaced yet. One very significant finding is a huge improvement in optimism on the economy, 35% of people now think the economy will get better in the next 12 months. 37% expect it to get worse, giving a net economic optimism figure of minus 2. In last month’s MORI poll it was minus 29, so a huge leap. The public at least seem to be moving towards thinking the economy has bottomed out – though it remains to be seen how the budget will affect that view.


ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has topline figures, with changes from the last ICM poll, of CON 40%(-4), LAB 30%(-1), LDEM 19%(+1). The poll was conducted between the 17th and 19th April.

It shows a sharply different result from the two polls at the weekend, which were taken to show a big jump in the Tory lead. One of those polls was carried out by ICM’s sister company Marketing Sciences and I assumed it had been carried out using ICM’s methodology. If so the two polls are telling rather different stories!

This poll would have been conducted while the smear email saga was still all over the media, so it’s unlikely to be the case that there was a blip that immediately vanished again. This is actually the lowest Conservative lead in an ICM poll since December, which given the horrendous week Labour have had in the media seems a somewhat unlikely trend.

Tomorrow MORI’s monthly political monitor, which was also carried out over the weekend, should appear tomorrow and perhaps that will clear things up a bit – otherwise we’ll never know for sure the effect of the smear emails on Labour’s public support, since the next round of polls will be subject to whatever positive or negative effect the budget has.

Looking beyond the topline figures, the underlying trends are rather better for the Conservatives. Cameron & Osborne now have a 10 point lead over Brown & Darling as the most trusted team to run the economy, up from 2 points the last time ICM asked the question in January. The Conservatives are also seen as the party most likely to “use power honestly” – backed by 29% to Labour’s 20% and the Lib Dems 13% (implying that 38% of people wouldn’t trust any of them).

ICM poll due tonight

Unless they have delayed it until after the budget, I would expect an ICM/Guardian poll to be out tonight. I may not be back from a meeting until after it appears, so feel free to discuss it in this thread.

There was a Populus poll for the BBC on last night’s Westminster Hour asking some questions looking forward to the budget.

On balance respondents said they would prefer spending cuts to tax increases in the budget. 21% of people wanted the emphasis to be more (or entirely) upon tax increases, 36% wanted the emphasis to be more (or entirely) upon spending cuts. 37% preferred a roughly even split.

Populus then asked which areas people would like to see protected from cuts, and which areas they think should be cut. Notably these were both unprompted questions – people weren’t asked to pick from a list, but answered in their own words, which were then coded up by Populus. Questions like this are costly and time-consuming, but the answers aren’t influenced by the options the pollster choses to offer.

Of the 73% of people who said they thought some areas should be protected from spending cuts, the most popular areas identified were by some distance, the NHS (50%) and education (35%). 17% thought the police should be protected from cuts, 11% thought transport should – nothing else was mentioned by more than 5% of respondents.

Of areas that people thought should be particular targets for cuts, 46% of people said don’t know. The most popular thing mentioned was MPs pay and perks, which given the comparatively miniscule cost of MPs expenses when put aside public spending as a whole, could only ever make a symbolic contribution. After this was local authorities (9%) and defence (7%). Nothing else was above 5%. The public seem to back cuts in public spending in theory, but are rather more reluctant when it comes to specific cuts.

Since it was a BBC commissioned poll there were, as usual, no voting intention questions. The tables, incidentally, include cross-breaks by party which imply voting intention was actually asked, but reverse engineering that into voting intentions is unlikely to be possible unless Populus also asked likelihood to vote.