Voters don’t buy Coalition cuts – with nearly half blaming them for the deficit

Asked which strategy for managing the budget deficit they agreed with, voters put the Coalition’s plans last. Just 22 per cent supported the Government’s attempt to deal with the deficit by the next election, compared to the 74 per cent who were evenly split between Labour’s proposal to reduce the deficit by half over the next five years.

A Populus poll published in The Times today reveals three in four voters disagree with the Coalition’s handling of the economy, five weeks before extensive cuts are expected to be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20th October.

Asked which strategy for managing the budget deficit they agreed with, voters put the Coalition’s plans last. Just 22 per cent supported the Government’s attempt to deal with the deficit by the next election, compared to the 74 per cent who were evenly split between Labour’s proposal to reduce the deficit by half over the next five years, and the TUC’s belief that protecting the vulnerable and reducing unemployment should take precedence over reducing the deficit.

Of Conservative voters, 51 per cent backed Labour’s plan, whilst only 31 per cent supported their own party’s strategy.

These figures show a marked change from those of Populus’ July 2009 poll, where 38 per cent believed the Tories would cut best, compared to 28 per cent putting their faith in Labour. They also reveal, as demonstrated by the graph below, that voters’ economic expectations have become notably more pessimistic after a recovery in the run up to May’s election.

What’s more, those polled do not see Labour’s handling of the economy as the chief cause of the deficit. Banks and the global recession are both more commonly blamed than the actions of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Though out of power for the vast majority of the economic crisis, Cameron and Osborne appear to have been marred by association. Forty nine per cent – only 15 points less than for Brown and Darling – accuse them of being responsible for ‘Britain’s current economic situation’.

In terms of voting intention, it is the Lib Dems who lose out most according to the poll. The 4 per cent boost which sees the percentage of potential Labour voters rise to 37 per cent is accompanied by a corresponding drop in popularity of the Lib Dems, from 18 per cent to 14 per cent. The Conservatives remain on 39 per cent.

Interestingly, Populus figures which didn’t appear in The Times’ report show a correlation between views of the Coalition’s handling of the economy and socioeconomic class. The Government was thought to be doing well by 2% more DE voters that thought it was doing badly. This is compared to 26 per cent for C2 voters, 24 per cent for C1, and, by far the highest, 38 per cent for those from the AB group.

In other words, the middle and professional classes feel far more sanguine about Coalition economic policy than the working and lower middle classes. This is likely to be seen as encouraging by Labour figures, particularly Ed Miliband, who has announced his intention to regain the 3 million C2 and DE voters who dropped their support for Labour between 1997 and 2010.

A recent YouGov/Sun poll confirms Populus’ findings. It shows the government’s approval rating to be minus eight – the lowest figure since the election. Furthermore, it reveals that voters’ perception of the financial situation of their household over the next 12 months deteriorated significantly after the election. The ‘feel-good factor’ decreased from -19 per cent in the last pre-election poll (April 9-10), to -44 per cent in the latest figure (September 2-3).

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