New poll: public trust Labour over Tories on policies

1:48 pm - June 8th 2013

by Don Paskini    

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The conventional wisdom amongst the great and good in the Westminster bubble runs something like this: After a difficult time last year, the Tories are making progress, with popular welfare and school reforms, falling levels of immigration, and growing support for their tough decisions on the economy. Meanwhile, Labour’s policy of just opposing the government without setting out a ‘credible’ alternative means that they are not trusted by the public.

Something which is often instructive is to compare what elite opinion formers think about public opinion with what people actually think when you ask them. For example, in last year’s US elections, the Beltway elite thought that the election would be really close, while those who looked at the data saw that it wouldn’t. Often, elite opinion formers project their own centre right opinions onto the public.

So how do our Westminster pundits’ views stack up against public opinion?

Lord Ashcroft published some research last week which polled people on whether they preferred Labour or the Conservatives on a range of policy areas. Here’s a quick summary:

On the economy, people backed Labour over the Tories by 24 points on ‘cutting the deficit without harming the vulnerable’. Labour was 9 points up on getting the balance right between tax rises and spending cuts, 3 points ahead on helping business. The Tories were 1 point ahead on steering the economy through difficult times.

On other issues, Labour was 30 points ahead on looking after the NHS. This will come as little surprise to anyone except the Very Serious Pundits who criticised Labour for just opposing everything the government does.

The same pundits will also be surprised to hear that far from being popular, Michael Gove’s radical school reforms have propelled the Tories to a 15 point deficit on improving standards in school.

But the NHS and schools are traditionally strong Labour policy areas. What of crime, immigration and welfare abuse? On both crime and immigration, Labour and the Tories are tied. And on ‘tackling welfare abuse’ the Tories are five points ahead. And on all three issues, public opinion has been moving towards Labour since January of this year.


There are all sorts of caveats which are important to note here. The data doesn’t tell us about how well informed people are about Labour and Tory policies in each of these areas, whether opinion might change as we get closer to an election, or what is driving changes in opinion. So, for example, it might be that the fall in trust for the Tories on immigration is due to people backing a more hardline approach and trusting UKIP’s ‘keep all the foreigns out’ alternative. And there are likely to be lots of people who don’t trust any of the political parties on some or any of these issues.

In addition, the phrasing of these questions is important. Asking about ‘cutting the deficit without hurting the most vulnerable’ is likely to get a more pro-Labour response than asking about ‘cutting the deficit’. Similarly, ‘tackling welfare abuse’ is likely to get a more pro-Tory response than ‘cutting the welfare bill by reducing unemployment’.

But what this data does show is that Westminster insiders have not got a very good idea of what the public think, and when they tell us that Labour’s credibility is being undermined by opposing the government’s public services reforms, that the public back the Tories on the economy and that if the Tories are banking on attacking Labour as soft on crime, immigration and welfare, then they might get quite a shock if they assume people prefer their approach.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Reader comments

Legalise polygyny

I actually can’t see much difference in their policies on most things.

It all seems to be being driven by Farage and his right wing outfit of hate merchants.

I simply don’t trust any of them to get things right. Too many people are being killed by a welfare system designed to stop an infinitesimal fraud on benefits. We are far too likely to get involved in Syria. We are far too likely to leave Europe and to end up with some British Human rights bill that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. And we are far too likely to spend £100 b on an American controlled and manufactured weapons system.

Miliband’s speech the other day was one I never thought to hear from a Labour person, and it echoed what Margaret Curren had been saying the previous day. It’s Labour’s way forward and it’s mainly Tory policy.

I’m gutted. My grandfather must be spinning in his grave.

It’s interesting how cut off and out of touch this suggests the Westminster clique and the chatterati are.

It always impresses me how it takes Ashcroft to bother to find out what people actually think. It’s quite a condemnation of the media and politicians really.

4. John Reid

Trust, Is the word here rather than ability,
And cutting debt and not welfare. Isnt the way the public judge who’s best at running the economy

Surprised at labour tying with the Tories on Law and order,at the last election it was one of two policies that Labour were ahead in the polls on,

Regarding things that the Tories have done u turns on since the election, Education fees, or environmental views, motorways,wind turbines, airport runways,it’s easy for Labour to be now more popular than the Tories on if they gained points for opposing things before the election they’ve now had to implement,

I can’t see how the Tories can attack labour on crime as its them who’ve cut police. Numbers and their pay. And stopped things.ike DNA ,section 44 stops, I’D cards and prisons and scrapped surveillance ideas,

5. fuck stats

Public of Yougov

Honestly if i hadn’t been so desperate for money once (cash for surveys) i wouldn’t even known that site existed.

6. fuck stats

In other words: Labour are afraid of moronic yougov polling and hare shifting to the hard right.

As I me turned above there was to policies that Labour were more popular than the Tories on at the last election,law and the other being pensions, now labour are trying to not be popular on that too.

8. margin4error

I’ve often said that politicians are more in touch than jourbalists and pundits. As much as I still think Labour picked the wrong leader (wel, Labour members picked the right leader – but were over-ruled by the unions) – Ed Miliband’s message does seem to have a lot of public support that pundits and reports give him no credit for.

So fair play to him. After all, as the Tories proved in opposition, there really is nothing inevitable about being popular in opposition. It can take years to win trust back after election ignominy. Ashcroft’s studies suggest Labour have done it relatively quickly, all be it in part thanks to the exceptional situation with the Lib Dem left defecting en masse.

If Labour could just get some strategic economic thinking in place – stuff like creating regional state investment banks (ala Germany) direct intervention in housing (our housing crisis is making our labour market inflexible and high-cost) and commit to a properlly mapped out national infrastructure plan (the present one is an un-costed wish-list for now) – they really might win in 2015.

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