The narrative of David Cameron standing up for British economic interests seems to have struck a chord with the public.
By Gideon Skinner and Sarah Pope
The government's decisive actions over Europe seem to have pleased the public, with the Conservatives taking a marginal lead in our latest Reuters/Ipsos Mori Political Monitor.
While the lead is within the margin of error, the Conservatives are seven points up since November and ahead of Labour for the first time this year. Satisfaction with the government's performance has increased since last month (although still only 36%). Similarly satisfaction with both Cameron and Clegg has risen by four points each, to 43% and 33% respectively.
Satisfaction with their handling of the European debt crisis is the most likely explanation for this boost for the coalition, and for the Conservatives in particular. Over half think that George Osborne and David Cameron have handled the crisis well, up four points since November.
Meanwhile the proportion positive about European politicians such as Merkel and Sarkozy has dropped by the same amount to 40%. The widespread narrative of David Cameron standing up for British economic interests seems to have struck a chord with the public; we found that 70% say the state of other countries' economies is one of the greatest threats to the national interest.
The nature of the boost can be seen especially when comparing ratings of David Cameron's handling of the European crisis with overall satisfaction with him as prime minister. Unsurprisingly, Conservative supporters are highly pleased with both, but there is a big difference among supporters of other parties. Only 18% of Labour voters are satisfied with Cameron as PM, but this doubles to 34% satisfied with his and George Osborne's handling of this crisis.
Despite party commitments and Nick Clegg's vocal disapproval of Cameron's unilateralism, 55% of Liberal Democrat voters also think that Cameron has done well in Europe, although only 37% are satisfied with his overall performance. So 'non-Conservative' voters' views on Cameron overall have little changed, even though they are relatively more satisfied with how he has handled the crisis in Europe.
Whether the boost for the Tories proves to be short-lived or longer-lasting may well depend on domestic issues.
The economy is still seen as the most important issue facing Britain today, while concern about unemployment is at its highest since the late 1990s. The publication of worsening unemployment figures this week may mean this rises even further in 2012. Economic optimism is at its lowest since the height of the banking crisis in September 2008, with just 12% thinking that the economy will improve in the next twelve months. And on other domestic ratings, the split by party support is as strong as ever. Despite reduced growth forecasts in the autumn statement, satisfaction with George Osborne has remained stable since March. However, his ratings vary from 74% among Conservatives, to 32% among Lib Dems and just 17% among Labour voters.
And on the great domestic issue, the public are split down the middle: 46% think that the government is making the wrong decisions about how to reduce Britain's deficit, while 44% think that they are making the right ones. And again, people are polarised along party lines: 83% of Tory voters think that the government is making the right decisions about how to cut the deficit, falling to 43% of Lib Dems and just 18% among Labour supporters.
So there is no doubt that Cameron's response to the crisis in Europe and his wielding of the veto has given his party a boost - and is also likely to have improved his already strong ratings as the most capable leader. But 2012 will probably still be dominated by the battle over who has the best approach to taking Britain through its economic crisis.
Gideon Skinner is head of politics and Sarah Pope is a researcher at Ipsos Mori
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