Public opinion on spending cuts
Every so often I chart some of the questions that YouGov have been consistently asking on public attitudes to spending cuts. While it is clear that the government parties have lost support (not to mention the UKIP surge), this has not necessarily produced significant changes in attitudes to some of the key economic questions.
First we can see that the government is not seen as competent managers of the economy. This chart tracks a net measure ie it takes the percentage who think the government is managing the economy badly away from those who think it is managing it well. That measure has been negative since shortly after the election – and heaving so for more than a year.
The next chart tracks those who think the government is implementing cuts fairly – again it is a net measure. This has been consistently negative, apart from a few weeks after the election – and heavily so for more than two years. While the measure is still heavily negative it may be that the slight recovery for the government reflects the prominence of benefit issues in recent months.
YouGov started asking some additional questions at the start of 2011 – after the sharp movements at the beginning of the above charts.
The next chart shows consistent majority support for spendings cuts as necessary. The figure has been pretty consistent this year, and I have no particular suggestions for the movements at the end of last year.
But while a majority think cuts are necessary, a majority think they are too deep and too quick though the trend is in the government’s favour.
This chart is based on a question with three possible responses (other than don’t know). As well as too fast/deep or too slow/shallow, there is an ‘about right’ option too. This chart tracks those saying ‘too fast’ less both those groups answering ‘about right’ and ‘too slow’. Even more confusingly I have put them both on the same chart.
Finally, here is a chart that tracks what i think is the most useful question – though it has not been asked very often.
Thinking about the government’s economic policies, which of the following best reflects your view?
- The government should stick to its current strategy of reducing the deficit, even if this means growth remains slow
- The government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth, even if this means the deficit stays longer or gets worse
Again it’s a net measure. Opinion only goes with the government in one poll, and the majority against is normally between 5 and 10 per cent (the outliers may well be blips given the lack of data points.)
As ever, I think polls are only one part of the start of the discussion about what you do or say, though an important one. And as the charts show, people are perfectly capable of having inconsistent views. I have had a brief look for a poll that tracks the importance of the deficit as an issue, but did not come up with one. Knowing that the economy is consistently the biggest issue begs the question about what people mean by that – and of course that meaning can change over time.
What does seem true is that the simple notion that governments should not spend more than they get in (the nation’s credit card/purse argument) is very strong. Direct questions about the deficit and cuts are likely to trigger that view, while other questions will bring other views to the front of discussion. Those of us who want to see a change of course need to ensure that the lack of growth, poor job prospects and cuts in living standards are what people mean by the economy.