Ipsos MORI’s June Political Monitor for Reuters shows growing realisation among the public of the severity of the economic crisis, and suggests greater acceptance of the need for cuts to public services in order to reduce the deficit. Most people agree that Britain needs to show the world that it can live within its means, although there remains opposition to the reality of cuts to frontline services and increases to VAT or income tax. In terms of how decisions about cuts to public services are made, two in five people would personally like to get involved or have more of a say.
There is general satisfaction with the way the new government is dealing with the economic situation. Most think that the government is being honest about the state of the public finances and believe that in the long term its policies will improve the state of Britain’s economy.
More people think that the economic condition of the country will get worse over the next year (40%) than get better (35%). This puts our Economic Optimism Index (% think it will get better minus % think it will get worse) at -5%; a significant drop since May (+10%) and April (+15%)
Despite their gloomy outlook on the state of Britain’s economy, the public appears to have more confidence in the coalition government’s economic policies than they had in Labour’s approach to dealing with the economy. Three in five people agree that the government is being honest about the state of Britain’s public finances (60%), while 29% disagree. On the whole, the public believes that the new government’s policies will improve the state of Britain’s economy (61%), while 29% disagree. In November last year, 40% thought the government’s policies would improve the economy, compared to over half who disagreed (54%).
Public acceptance of the need for spending cuts to public services appears to be increasing. Almost three in five agree that ‘there is real need to cut spending on public services in order to pay off the very high national debt we now have’ (58%), compared to 49% in March and only 40% last June. Similarly, whilst a majority of the public still agree that making public services more efficient can save enough money to pay off the very high national debt we now have without damaging the services the public receives (59%), this has decreased slightly since March (64%).
The public are in favour of showing the world that Britain can live within its means, but are still put off by the prospect of cuts to public services as a result. Whilst a large majority of people think that it is important for Britain to show the world that it can live within its means (85%), slightly fewer agree with this ‘even if that means big cuts to our public services (63%).
People think that the government’s priority in reducing the deficit should be to protect services for people who most need help, even if that means that others people are harder hit by tax rises and cuts to the services they use (75%). Only one in five think that spending on all services should be cut even if that includes services that are mainly used by people who most need help (20%).
Where do the public think spending cuts will be made – and where do they think cuts should be made?
Many of the options available to the government are likely to prove unpopular with the public. Most people think that the government will make the retirement age later (86%), increase VAT (84%), cut spending on frontline services (81%), freeze public sector pay next year (77%), increase income tax (76%), and cut universal benefits the well-off, such as child benefit (74%). Slightly fewer think that it will end teachers’ final salary pension scheme (49%). The public are broadly in favour of freezing public sector pay and making the retirement age later (for each, 55% think the government should do this). However, most think the government should not increase VAT (63%), increase income tax (54%), cut spending on frontline services (62%) or end teachers’ final salary pensions (55%).
Does the public want to have a say in decisions about spending cuts?
In principle, people value the idea of government that takes public views into account. Two-thirds of the public would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly acts on the views and opinions of the general public to make decisions (66%). Fewer would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly trusts his own judgement and experience to make decisions (30%).
Two in five people say they would either like to become actively involved in how decisions about cuts to public services are made or have more of a say (40%). A third of people would like to know about how decisions about cuts to public services are made, but do not want to be involved beyond that (36%). One in five say they are not interested in knowing how decisions are made (22%).
Among those who would like to know about or have a say in how spending decisions are made, the preferred methods of participation are taking part in a survey (77%), receiving regular updates and information (66%) and giving your views online (63%).
Attitudes towards the coalition are on the whole positive
More people are satisfied with the way the government is running the country (43%) than are dissatisfied (33%). This compares to two-thirds who were dissatisfied with the Labour government in April (66%).
Similarly, most people are satisfied with the way David Cameron is doing his job as Prime Minister (57%), while a quarter are dissatisfied (26%). In April, three in five were dissatisfied with Gordon Brown (59%) compared to a third who were satisfied (35%). Over half are satisfied with the way Nick Clegg is doing his job as deputy Prime Minister (53%). Two in five of the public are satisfied with the way George Osborne is doing his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer (40%), while 23% are dissatisfied. However, a third do not yet have an opinion about the new Chancellor (36% say they don’t know).
Half of the public are hopeful of what the new coalition government will do (50%), although two in five say they are fearful (41%). This is broadly in line with last month, although slightly more people now say they are fearful (36%) and slightly fewer say they are hopeful (54%) than in May.
More people think that the Conservatives are making most of the decisions in the new government (51%) than think it is a genuine coalition in which decisions are made jointly between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (41%).
Voting intentions (among those absolutely certain to vote) are Conservative 39%, Labour 31%, Liberal Democrat 19%, Others 11%.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,002 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 18-20 June 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.