From the TUC

Cuts and public support

19 Jun 2010, by in Politics

I suppose it isn’t surprising that opinion polls are showing that 49% of the respondents to the latest YouGov poll (field work: 13-14 June) say they think that the cuts are good for the economy, with 31% saying they’re bad.

It’s largely due to the fact that the government is still being given the benefit of the doubt by voters (45% in the same poll say they approve of their record so far, with only 25% disapproving). It’s also partly the way the cuts are being reported in newspapers and TV programmes – the debate is usually framed in terms of which cuts should be carried out, rather than whether they’re necessary at all.

Even the phrasing of the YouGov question (at least in my view) assumes the government’s rationale for cuts:

“Thinking about the way the government is cutting spending to reduce the government’s deficit, do you think this is… Good or bad for the economy?”

But even at this early stage there are indications that should worry the government. Firstly, the gap between those who think the cuts are being done fairly (37%) and unfairly (33%) is much closer. Secondly, 48% of respondents say the cuts are already having an impact on their lives – which suggests they may not be very forgiving when the services actually disappear.

There are signs of divisions in the coalition. People who voted Conservative are overwhelming in their support – 81% think they are good for the economy and 68% think they are fair – but there are doubts among Lib Dem voters. They just about think the cuts are good for the economy (39% to 37%) and a narrow plurality already think they’re unfair: 35% to 34%.

Women are less likely than men to be positive about the cuts – 45% think they are good for the economy, compared with 52% of men and 34% think they are fair, compared with 40% of men. Women aren’t that much more likely to have negative views than men, instead there are higher proportions answering they don’t know: 27% say they don’t know whether the cuts will be good for the economy (compared with 14% of men) and 34% say they don’t know whether they are fair (26% of men.)

These figures are important for those of us campaigning against cuts: they suggest that there are many women open to our arguments, but we cannot take their support for granted – we have to show how they are likely to find their day-to-day lives are affected by the cuts. This should not be too difficult; women are, on average, more likely to be poor than men and poorer people are going to be hit harder by the cuts.

It’s also important to remind people – especially those who are undecided – they didn’t vote for cuts. During the election, an IPSOS-MORI poll found that cuts were not popular. While 70% expected a Conservative government to cut spending on public services and 56% expected a Labour government to do so, only 27% said the next government should do this. Of four options in the poll only increasing VAT (coming soon to a Budget near you) was more unpopular:

The next government should …
Increase income tax 34%
Increase National Insurance 29%
Cut spending on frontline services 27%
Increase VAT 22%

And, it’s always worth remembering that, in the election itself, a majority of people voted for parties which, at that time, were opposed to immediate spending cuts. This table (for GB only, Northern Ireland parties’ views are harder to establish) shows the results arranged by position on cuts:

General Election Results
In favour of immediate cuts Position unclear Against immediate cuts
Party Votes % vote Party Votes % vote Party Votes % vote
Con 10,703,695 36.9 BNP 564,321 1.9 Lab 8,606,518 29.7
UKIP 919,677 3.2 Other 411,628 1.4 Lib Dem (*) 6,836,718 23.6
SNP 491,376 1.7
Green 282,074 1.0
Resp. 33,081 0.1
TOTAL 11,623,372 40.1 TOTAL 975,949 3.3 TOTAL 16,249,767 56.1
* The Liberal Democrats have changed their position since the election

It is only in the narrow worlds of finance and politics that people assume that cuts are the only way forward; it is a position that lacks democratic legitimacy.

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