Saturday, June 02, 2012

It isn't working

Hopi Sen has produced a hefty digest of opinion polling on the government’s spending cuts, with charts aplenty.

My quick summary:

Consistently, most people agree that spending cuts are necessary. But on the scale and speed of the cuts, more people agree that the government is going too far too fast than disagree. That said, the ‘too far too fast’ lead has been declining gently – until March this year, the month of the Budget. Then it shot up again, back to earlier levels.

Hopi asks:

If the public consensus on the cuts (needed, but done too quickly and too deeply) has been static, or even moved slightly toward the government position, with the post budget "slump" only returning the numbers to the position six months back, is there anything which explains why the government is doing so much worse than it was then?

(And the government is doing worse now: on YouGov voting intention, the Conservatives were in the mid-to-high 30s for the year up to early March, but in April and May they’ve been in the low 30s.)

Hopi suggests the answer may lie in whether people think the cuts are being done fairly or unfairly:

Here, there's no perceptible shift toward the government position over the last 18 months. What's more, after the budget, the numbers who think the cuts are being done unfairly has surged to record heights.

There’s surely some truth in that. The scrapping of the 50p income tax rate sent a lot of people the signal that the rich were being spared their fair share of the pain.

But I suggest people’s views on the effectiveness of government policy are a driving force too:

This chart (data from YouGov) shows a sharp drop in confidence in the government’s economic policies the week after the Budget (21 March), and another drop just after the official announcement of a double-dip recession (25 April).

The last Conservative government claimed ownership of the economic pain at the start of the 1990s – “a price well worth paying”, “if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working” – and in the 1992 election, we grudgingly accepted it. But then came Black Wednesday, and we realised that they couldn’t even succeed at screwing us over for our own good. They never recovered.

Cameron and Osborne are not in Major and Lamont’s league yet, but if the view takes hold that all this austerity isn’t working, they’ll be in real trouble.