Economic concerns are increasing, which may be storing up trouble for the Conservatives in the long run.
By Gideon Skinner
Our latest Reuters/Ipsos Mori Political Monitor paints an interesting picture of the public mood. On the one hand, there is great concern over the economy and the influence the eurozone crisis will have on Britain. Economic pessimism is at its worst since early 2009, and concern about unemployment is at its highest point on the public agenda this century.
And yet, domestic political ratings are remarkably stable. Voting intentions for the two coalition partners are unchanged over the month (Labour is up three points at the expense of minor parties), and satisfaction ratings for the government and three main party leaders are all also unchanged. Those are the headline findings, but let's dig a little deeper to see what is going on under the surface.
We asked people how much influence British government decisions have over the British economy, and how much influence is held by the European economy. Overall 80% think that Britain's economy is influenced by the European economy, and 71% think it is influenced by British government decisions. But when we look in detail at the individual answers to these two questions, we find more variation than the topline findings first suggest. Only 42% give equal amounts of influence to the European economy and British government actions. Three in ten (30%) give more influence to the European economy, and 22% rate British government decisions as having most impact.
Applying this to class, we find that on an absolute level, the middle-classes (social grades ABC1) are more likely to believe that our economy is influenced by Europe than social grades C2DE. (Incidentally, ABC1s are also relatively more likely to feel that Britain should lend money to other countries because of this, while C2DEs are much more likely to say we should concentrate on sorting out our own problems first.) But on a relative level, there is no difference between the classes on whether Europe or the British government has most influence.
There are also interesting patterns by party support. Comparing relative levels of influence, a third of both Conservative and Labour supporters think that Europe has most impact on the British economy, but they have quite different attitudes on the role of the British government. A quarter of Labour supporters (26%) give the government more influence over our economy than events in Europe, compared to just 17% of Conservatives. This suggests that the message that our current economic woes are in large part due to the crisis in Europe is clearly resonating among Conservative supporters at least, while Labour supporters place relatively more blame on the government – as we would expect.
And yet, just because people think we are influenced by the European economy, there is no automatic desire for Britain to get even more deeply entangled with the eurozone crisis. When asked whether Britain should lend money to other countries in trouble because of our interdependence, or whether we should sort out our own troubles first, Conservative supporters come down firmly on the side of not lending money, even though nine in ten of them think we are influenced by what is going on in Europe. Labour supporters, perhaps more internationalist by nature, are exactly split down the middle on whether we should loan money or not.
The views of Liberal Democrats are even more interesting. Even though their leadership is much more pro-Europe than their coalition partners, their current supporters are as strongly against lending to other countries as Conservatives. People who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010, however, take a view more in line with current Labour voters. This neatly sums up the challenge facing the party: how do they win back some of that old support they have lost, at the same time as appealing to the core they have managed to keep?
The challenge facing Labour is summed up in another finding. Despite all the economic woe, half the public think David Cameron and George Osborne have handled the crisis in Europe well (although admittedly, not terribly enthusiastically). As we would expect Conservatives are most positive, followed by Liberal Democrats, but even among Labour supporters 41% think they have done well, twice as many as are satisfied with David Cameron more generally.
We already know that Cameron has a strong image as a capable leader who is good in a crisis, and though economic concerns are increasing - which may be storing up trouble for the Conservatives in the long run - Labour have not yet managed to land a killer blow. Until they can persuade voters that the economy would be better off under Labour, we may be seeing little change for some time yet.
Gideon Skinner is head of politics at Ipsos Mori
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