Stark choices in weekend polls hide true public sentiment

When offered a greater choice in opinion polls, the public offer a truer reflection

Two YouGov opinion polls published at the weekend appear to reveal a public desire for cuts in public spending over tax increases, and withdrawal from the European Union in preferance to acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty.

The surveys, in the Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph respectively, frame these two either-or questions as simple alternatives. In reality, there is no such choice and a substantial number of voters occupy the middle ground.

The Sunday Times poll sets out 60 per cent support for spending cuts versus 21 per cent support for tax increases. So far, so stark. But when the public were offered more choices – as happened in the Times/Populus poll in July – the results turn out to be very different.

When asked to choose between a range of options, 38 per cent supported a mix of spending cuts and tax increases with only 21 per cent favouring spending cuts alone.

The Telegraph reported that, “More than forty percent (43 per cent) of those polled said that Britain should leave the EU altogether rather than accept the Lisbon Treaty without a vote.” But this is another unrealistic black and white question as reflected by the 31 per cent of respondents who said they were undecided. More revealing,  however, the poll showed that 36 per cent would vote against the Treaty if a referendum were held –  seven percentage points less than the figure for those favouring the seemingly more severe option of complete withdrawal from the EU. A similar number say that British membership of the EU is a “bad thing” with opinion heavily split along party lines.

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