Budget polling

The budget is fairly unusual as an event that people actually pay attention to, and which actually has the potential to change voting intention polls. I spend most of my time hear stressing that the ins and outs of Westminster politics, the speeches, the gaffes, the policy launches. Hardly and of it is noticed by normal people who change their vote. Budgets are one of the exceptions – an annual event that does sometimes change minds. Regular readers will recognise the chart below from its outings at previous budgets – it shows the two YouGov polls before and after each recent budget (in recent years, its the weekly averages for the two weeks before and after each budget).

Effect of past budgets on government lead in YouGov polling

As you can see, while there is often talk of Chancellors revealing great vote winning bribes in budgets, when they do have an effect it is more often a negative one. Budgets can have a positive effect (2003, 2006 and 2011 all look like they shifted things marginally in the government’s favour), generally speaking the only big budget effects are negative ones – in 2008 and 2009 Alistair Darling had to deliver news of just how bad the economy was, while the 2012 budget contained the pasty tax, the granny tax and the 45p tax rate.

Anyway, while we’ll have the usual YouGov voting intention overnight, remember that the overwhelming majority of that will have been conducted before the budget was given. The actual figures we need to look out for will be those published Thurs/Fri night, and those published in the Sunday papers once the ups and downs of the budget have had time to register with the public.

This week’s YouGov/Sunday Times poll is up here. Topline figures are CON 29%, LAB 41%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 12%.


The economic trackers are as bad as usual for the government – people think the government are managing the economy badly by 65% to 25%, 67% think George Osborne is doing a bad job as Chancellor, only 11% of people expect their economic situation to get better in the next twelve months. Asked if the government’s economic strategy is working only 7% think it is, 36% think it isn’t but will in the fullness of time, 45% think it is unlikely to ever work. Take note of these figures – they are the background to this week’s budget and we’ll see next week if it has a positive or negative effect (in recent years budgets have had negative effects far more often than positive ones).

On the budget itself YouGov asked people what they wanted to see happen to spending and taxes in the budget – and how it would be paid for (otherwise everyone tends to say they’d like more spending and less taxes). 32% of people (mostly Conservaitves) said they wanted to see spending cut more, 25% (mostly Labour) that they wanted to see spending cut less, 25% that cuts should stay at about their current level. People were similarly divided on taxes – 24% wanted to see tax cuts, 22% tax rises, 38% that taxes should stay at their current level.

These should all be seen in the context of the more regular YouGov polling on cuts that does show that people dislike the spending cuts – they consistently say they are bad for the economy, too fast and being done unfairly. However they are also consistent in saying that they think they are necessary, which proably explains why people answered this week’s poll as they did.

The survey also asked about ringfencing spending on various areas after Liam Fox’s call for NHS spending not to be protected. His stance was, unsurprisingly, not widely popular! 74% think it is right for NHS spending to be protected, 18% think it is wrong. There is also widespread (67%) support for protecting spending on education, but 76% are opposed to protecting spending on international aid.


The poll also had a series of questions on Leveson, which generally speaking show the public pretty evenly divided. Some of the aims of the proposed regulations, such as forcing newspapers to print corrections or making newspapers who do not join the system subject to larger libel fines met with widespread support (90% and 62% respectively), but questions on the details of how the system works met with divided replies and large proportions of don’t knows. To be honest, I suspect that while people would like an effective and independent system of press regulation, few outside the industry or politics really care about the difference between underpinning by royal charter or by legislation.


The monthly online ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror is out this weekend and has topline figures of CON 28%(-3), LAB 37%(+1), LDEM 9%(+1), UKIP 17%(+3), Others 9%(-1).

It shows an increase in the Labour lead, putting it much more in line with the lead in other companies’ recent polling (last month’s online ComRes poll had a rather incongruous five point Labour lead that stuck out like a sore thumb), but the finding that will get the attention is probably the UKIP 17%, the highest they’ve had from ComRes and matching their highest from any company.

This may be a good opportunity to update the chart I do every couple of months showing UKIP support, adding a bar with UKIP scores since early January when I last updated it.


As you can see, there is still a huge gap between the level of UKIP reported by different pollsters, with ICM’s polls over the last two and a bit months showing them at just over 7%, while ComRes and Survation show them at 17%. The biggest reason for the difference still seems to be down to mode, with the telephone companies all consistently showing lower levels of UKIP support than the online companies (the exception is YouGov, whose figures are far more in line with those from the established telephone companies). As I’ve said before, this online/telephone gap implies one of two reasons, or a mixture of them. It could be down to interviewer effect, of people being more willing to admit to a computer screen than a phone interviewer that they are supporting UKIP, the alternative would be some sort of sampling issue, of the sort of people many online companies are ending up with in their panels containing more of the people likely to support UKIP. We cannot tell what explanation is more likely, or whether it is down to something completely differently.

Whatever figure is more accurate, the trend is consistent with UKIP support continuing to grow (the two companies that don’t show an increase in UKIP support, Angus Reid and Survation, have not done a national GB voting intention poll in February or March, I expect if they had they too would have shown a further UKIP increase. ComRes’s increase is one of the biggest because of a methodology change. Populus have not published a GB voting intention poll yet this year.)

Ipsos MORI’s monthly political monitor is out, with topline figures of CON 27%(-3), LAB 40%(-2), LDEM 11%(+4), UKIP 13%(+4). It suggests a boost for the Lib Dems and UKIP in the aftermath of Eastleigh, but little difference in the Labour lead (most of MORI’s polls in the last few months have shown this degree of lead).

MORI also have some economic questions in advance of the budget. George Osborne’s approval rating remains strongly negative – 60% are dissatisfied with how he is doing compared to only 27% who approve. As with most recent polls, MORI show Labour and the Conservatives pretty much neck-and-neck on the economy. 26% think that Labour have the best policies, 27% the Conservatives. Asked if a Labour government under Miliband and Balls would do better or worse than the current government at running the economy 26% think they’d do a better job, 31% a worse job and 38% think they’d do much the same.

Full tabs are here.

I had a cracking cold at the weekend so didn’t post on the YouGov/Sunday Times poll, hence there are a couple of interesting findings in there that really got overlooked. Most interestingly on the so-called “bedroom tax”. As the government gets a thorough kicking on the subject, it would be easy to imagine that the majority of people are up in arms against it. Actually, people supported the idea by it by 49% to 38%.

As one might imagine from a policy that has been a political football for the last few months, answers have aligned along party partisan grounds – three-quarters of Tory voters said they supported the policy and a majority of Labour voters say they oppose it… but a substantial minority of Labour voters (34%) say they support the policy.

Why? Regardless of whether or not is actually is a good policy or not (which is outside the remit of this blog) parts of the media have spent the last two months happily banging on about the evils of the bedroom tax and how it will affect the disabled, or children, or foster families or whatever… yet people say they support it. There are two obvious reasons, not by any means mutually exclusive. One, people really don’t pay much attention to any of the media coverage of the changes and are unaware of what impacts it might have. Two, that they are aware, but support it anyway – either people they think it is more important to cut spending and hard choices must be made, that downsides are exaggerated, that the basic principle outweighs the negative effects to some people or just, when push comes to shove, many people generally support cuts in benefits.

The same poll asked people to pick areas they think SHOULD be prioritised for cuts, and which areas people thought should be PROTECTED from cuts. The top answers to both questions were as you’d expect and saw little crossover between wanting cuts and wanting protection. So, a large majority of people want NHS spending protected with hardly anyone wanting it prioritised for cuts, over half of people wanted education protected with hardly anyone wanting it prioritised for cuts, the picture is similar for crime and pensions. On the other side a large majority thought overseas aid should be prioritised for cuts with hardly anyone wanting it protected.

Welfare benefits are more interesting. 39% of people think that welfare benefits should be prioritised for cuts, including 62% of Tory voters. For a lot of people this is an area where they positively want to see cutbacks. However, unlike overseas aid where the traffic is overwhelmingly one way, there is also a substantial body of people – 16% – who think welfare benefits are one of the area that most require protection from cuts. Benefits are, therefore, an area where there really are totally contrasting views out there amongst different parts of the electorate.

Polling does tend to show that the balance of the opinions is hostile towards welfare benefits. For example, about a year ago Peter Kellner did some polling for Prospect looking at attitudes towards the principles of welfare benefits. Overall 74% agreed that the government paid too much in benefits, and that welfare levels should be decreased. A different YouGov poll carried out for the TUC at the end of last year found 42% of people thought benefits were too generous, compared to 28% who thought they were about right and 18% not high enough. 59% thought that Britain had a culture of benefit dependency that needed radical change, as opposed to 29% who thought that welfare benefits were far from generous and the least a civilized society could do to help people avoid abject poverty.

However look below the surface and it isn’t a blanket opposition to welfare – it is hostile towards welfare for particular groups, supportive of particular cuts. So the YouGov/Prospect poll found people were happy to see support for disabled people and for the elderly to rise (even if it meant higher taxes), the areas where they think welfare is too generous and should fall are those Daily Mail favourites “single parents” and the unemployed. People are more evenly divided over support for low-paid people in work, with marginally more people thinking support should be cut than think it should rise. There is a similar picture when it comes to specific government policies – polls do show strong support for things like the benefit cap, for stopping benefits for those who refuse working, support for limiting benefit increases to 1% (although there appears to be an online/offline mode effect here – online polls show people more supportive than telephone polls)… but opposition to policies like stopping housing benefit for under 25s.

The reason that people tend to be supportive of benefits cuts in general is likely to be related to the fact that they perceive an awful lot of benefits as going to those groups they don’t want to pay for, or indeed for outright fraud. For example, the YouGov polling for the TUC found that on average people thought that 41% of benefit spending went to the unemployed and that just over a quarter of it was claimed fraudulently. The YouGov/Prospect poll found that 29% of people thought that half or more of benefit claimants were lying or deliberately refusing to take work, and a further 39% thought a significant majority were. The general perception is also that benefits are more generous than they are – on average, people think that Jobseekers Allowance is £147 a week (it’s actually £71 a week).

This is not to say that attitudes to benefits are unusual in someway in being based upon a poor understanding of the issues. I expect this is typical and we’d find it in almost any policy subject we cared to ask about. Most people don’t waste much of their time worrying about the details of how the country is run, what the government spends, how policies work and so on. Our views of policies are based not on a detailled understanding of the issues, but on crude impressions and heuristics. In terms of welfare benefits, those crude impressions are, for many people, that a large amount of benefits go to the workshy or the dishonest and therefore it is a good place to save money, rather than on public services like hospitals and schools.

I should finish by taking it right the way to electoral politics. As in most cases, the important thing won’t be whether people actually support individual policies, it is how they feed into wider, longer term perceptions of the parties. For the Conservatives many of the policies are popular in themselves, but they need to avoid them playing into and entrenching perceptions that the party are heartless or nasty or uncaring towards those struggling (it’s not necessarily impossible – remember that the low income person seeing their own tax credits frozen may also be someone who believes that benefit claimants are mostly scroungers and layabouts who deserve their benefits cut – people don’t fit into nice neatly defined boxes of us and them). Labour meanwhile will want to oppose many cuts without allowing the Conservatives to paint them as a party that cares more about benefit recipients than they do taxpayers funding them – in short, despite the ridiculousness of the rhetoric, whether they are on the side of skivers or strivers.