The Cabinet Secretary thinks cuts are going to continue to 2020. The Prime Minister knows that means the next Conservative manifesto is going to have to set out some significant second term savings. Is there a political message would allow him to keep making the general case for deficit reduction and – at the same time – ensure the specific measures involved don’t undermine the Conservatives’ chances for a majority in a 2015 General Election? So far, the Government’s first line of defence has been TINA: There Is No Alternative. YouGov have been running a regular poll question asking “thinking about the way the government is cutting spending to reduce the government’s deficit, do you think this is “necessary or unnecessary”. Since the start of 2011, the necessary camp has been well ahead but a little before George Osborne’s last Budget, the gap began to close (Figure 1).
In a poll commissioned by Centreground Political Communications, undertaken by YouGov and reported in yesterday’s Financial Times (£), we looked at what specific measures the Government has taken and whether people thought they were necessary or not (Figure 2). The PM’s emphasis so far has been on cuts to housing benefit and this poll would suggest that these calls will resonate, at least with Conservative supporters. As you might expect, Labour voters are more sceptical about all the Government’s plans – except, interestingly, when it comes to restricting child benefit for families with a higher rate taxpayer.
Why focus on measures that score better with the Conservatives’ current supporters than with the ones they would need to win a majority in 2015? It’s not normally wise but here’s one possible defence: we polled people about how what proportion of the cuts they thought were yet to take place. 31 per cent of current Conservative Party supporters thought the cuts were largely over (Figure 3). That makes them unusual – even compared to Conservative 2010 voters – and, according to the Cabinet Secretary at least, wrong. It must be worrying for the Conservatives that they do not know how this group will respond if and when it becomes more publicly obvious that cuts are a chronic, not an acute, problem facing the public sector.
We tested two different ways of justifying the government’s tax rises and spending cuts using split samples: (1) that “there is no alternative” or (2) that these are “the right choice for the country’s future” (Figure 4). The tax rises consistently received lower support, giving some additional political context to yesterday’s decision to cancel a planned increase in fuel duty. But when it comes to the different ways of making the government’s case there is small but consistent difference: statements based on the future received a few more percentage points in support, almost across the board. This week David Cameron argued that his welfare proposals were “not about high-level accounting to get the books in order…. [but instead] about the kind of country we want to be – who we back, who we reward, what we expect of people, the kind of signals we send to the next generation.” Could arguments like this replace “There Is No Alternative?” It’s a more difficult and nuanced case to make but, our poll suggests, it could be more effective for the kind of long term task the Government has set itself.
On behalf of Centreground Political Communications, YouGov interviewed 1,716 people between 17th – 18th June 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).