We analysed polls taken over the past two years which aimed to identify how support for key values varied by supporters of different political parties. It is worth pointing out that none of the polls were designed specifically to explore the level of public support for political cooperation, the areas where this was most desirable and the limits to it. The sample sizes were too small to investigate the views of supporters of minor parties like the Greens and UKIP, or of the nationalist and separatist parties. While we can draw some conclusions from published data, we hope to follow it up with bespoke polling in the months ahead. We have used polls taken over a two year period in which views and political affiliations will have changed. The absolute level of approval or disapproval for different statements and values should, therefore, be treated with caution. However, in any given poll we believe that the relative levels of support across different groups of voters do give a useful insight into voter attitudes
National survey data collected by the British Electoral Study in 2012 looked at voters’ views on powerful institutions, and wider inequality. As you would expect, Labour voters showed the greatest concern about corporate greed and banks’ excessive profits, and about wider economic inequality and social injustice. Conservative voters showed relatively high levels of concern about bank profits and corporate behaviour, but markedly less concern about inequality and injustice. Lib Dem voters shared a similar concern to Labour voters about institutional and societal injustice.
2010 polling showed, if anything, greater Lib Dem voter support for wider economic change. They were as likely as Labour voters to want ‘a new economic model less driven by short term profit and the free market logic’, more likely to say that the banking crisis ‘revealed some big problems in our economy’ and less likely than Labour voters to say ‘we shouldn’t over react as our basic model has served us well.’ (for the data see Annex 1 at the bottom of the page)
There was a similar pattern when voters were asked, just after the 2010 election, about the role of Government in protecting the interests of society against some business practice. 53% of Labour voters and 46% of Liberal Democrat voters supported the view that ‘on balance, the freedom of business to make profit often serves the minority in society – so Governments must intervene to prevent the market’s excesses‘, while 45% of Conservative voters supported the view that ‘on balance, the freedom for business to make a profit serves the interests of society as a whole, so there should be minimal government regulation of the market.’ The data is available on p9 here.
Society and welfare:
The riots of 2011 revealed a range of views on the causes of such serious and widespread disturbances. When the British Electoral Study (August 2011) asked peoples’ view on the cause of the riots, concerns about failures in the criminal justice system and attitudes towards law and order were widely shared across supporters of all political parties. Conservative voters overwhelmingly believed (94%) that government failure to punish offenders was one of the causes of the riots, while this view was held by a smaller number of Labour (70%) and Lib Dem (74%) voters. Conservatives, however, were much less likely to see growing inequality, cuts in programmes for the poor and a lack of jobs/a bad economy as causes.
On this issue, Labour voters were much more likely to see social, as well as criminal justice, root causes to the disturbances, with Lib Dem voters more progressive than the Tories but significantly less so than Labour. An interesting insight from this polling is that Lib Dem 2010 voters who intended to remain loyal to the party held attitudes more similar to Conservative voters whilst those intending to leave the Lib Dems were closer to Labour voters.
On wider welfare issues, the majority of voters support outcomes-based fairness. In a 2010 survey, the statement ‘what matters is not whether taxes and benefits go up or down, but whether the Government distributes welfare benefits fairly and sensibly‘ was supported by 38% of Conservatives, 48% of Labour and 50% of Lib Dem voters. Significantly, Conservatives (45%) supported a more classically right wing statement ‘the poor should take far more responsibility for their own circumstances, the Government should hand out less money in benefits and reduce taxes’ (see Annex 2).
Despite the similarity in Labour and Lib Dem support for fairness in the welfare system, there is a greater divergence on left/right positional statements with Labour voters more likely to agree that (24%) ‘The Government should do far more to help the poor and tax everyone else more to pay for this help’ and Lib Dem voters more likely (27%) to support the statement favoured by Conservative voters that the ‘poor should take far more responsibility for their own circumstances’.
Work and employment rights:
There was a similar pattern on trade unionism in 2010 with both Labour (51%) and LibDems (48%) agreeing that ‘trade unions have an important role to play in bringing people together to improve conditions at work and to help employees when they need it‘ while Conservatives leaned towards the view that (46%) ‘trade unions are a relic of an industrial age that is now long gone. They just get in the way of an efficient economy and individual workers solving their own problems’ (see Annex 3).
There is a greater divergence between Lib Dem and Labour voters over the harder edged issue of strike action. Respondents were asked whether public sector unions were justified in taking strike action for three different reasons: to protect jobs, protect pensions and protect pay. Labour voter support ranged between 71 and 77% over the three causes, and Lib Dem voter support ranged from 47-61%, but 51-63% of Conservatives said that strike action is not justified in these three situations (full polling data here).
Six months later, when public sector strikes were again threatened, the polls asked ‘thinking about the disagreements between the government and the trade unions, do you think the trade unions are acting reasonably or unreasonably?’ 70% of Labour voters answered ‘reasonably’, 82% of Conservatives said ‘unreasonably’; Lib Dems split equally between the two (see Annex 4).
A tentative conclusion might be that trade unions will depend largely on a core of Labour voters for support for particular actions, but that in trying to defend and perhaps extend trade union rights, the unions should not ignore the large body of goodwill amongst Lib Dem voters.
Of course, there is no guarantee that political parties accurately represent the views of their supporters, as the ‘apologetic’ Nick Clegg has found over tuition fees. But the well publicised coalition tensions over business regulation do appear to reflect real differences in the views of the parties’ supporters. Asked ‘do you think it is too easy or too difficult for companies to dismiss underperforming employees, or is the present balance about right?‘, 40% of Labour and 47% of Lib Dem supporters agree (26% of Labour supporters think employees should have more protection). But 66% of Conservatives think ‘it is too difficult for companies to dismiss employees and they should be made easier to sack‘ (see Annex 5).
The role of the state:
Among Labour and Lib Dem voters, the statement ‘government is a force for good. It helps improve my life and my family. It’s normally part of the solution not the problem’ attracts Labour support (48%) and Lib Dem support (33%), whilst Conservative voters (37%) tend to take the view that ‘government gets in the way….overall it’s part of the problem‘ (see Annex 6). However, support for the first position finds far more support from those who stayed with Labour in 2010 (54%) than those who left (37%) (for the full data see P21 here).
Indeed, this 2010 polling suggests that different attitudes towards the role of government and the state were good indicators of how Labour’s previous vote fragmented. Loyal Labour voters supported (48%) the statement that ‘the whole point of government is to make sure that there are decent standards across the board and everyone gets a fair deal‘ but only 35% of lost Labour voters did so (P19 here)
It’s also the case that Lib Dem voters, while more positive about the role of Government than Conservatives, are less positive than Labour voters and significantly more see Government as part of the problem (see Annex 6).
All recent polling shows a marked decline in voter concern about the environment in general and climate change in particular. For example, the June 2012 YouGov/EDF tracker survey showed that levels of interest in global warming and climate change have dropped steadily from 72% ‘interested’ in 2008 to 59% ‘interested’ in 2012. Nonetheless, there has been a reasonably persistent pattern across the parties, as the YouGov/EDF tracker from May 2010 illustrates, with Conservative voters showing least concern, Lib Dem voters the greatest concern and Labour voters being closer to Lib Dem attitudes.
This gradient is particularly marked on climate change. Supporters of all parties express concern about the UK’s future electricity supplies and there is strong cross party support for the idea of energy independence (agreement with the statement ‘the UK should aim to be self sufficient in energy’ was supported by 92% of Conservative voters, 91% of Labour voters and 90% of Lib Dem voters). Conservatives consistently show the least support for solar power and wind power and the highest support for nuclear. Labour voters show least support for nuclear power (see Annex 7).
A recent YouGov poll published in the Fabian Review gives some, though not conclusive, evidence that non-voters might be persuaded to vote if they felt that politicians were promoting practical change, and were willing to work together.
The factor most cited by non-voters as a reason to vote at the next general election was if politicians ‘spent less time trying to win my vote and more time doing good work in my neighbourhood‘. 25% of non-voting respondents agreed that this would make them more likely to vote. Just 2% agreed that ‘If a party official knocked on my door to discuss political issues, or I received a telephone call or a letter’ they would be more likely to vote in future. At the same time, 38% of non-voters thought that politicians would be more relevant to their lives if ‘they stopped arguing for a minute and tried to work together to solve the key issues of the day’.
In the key battleground of the southern regions, polling shows that voters are marginally more likely to express support for valence statements (outcome-based statements over left/right positional statements that reflect particular ways of tackling an issue).
This poll also showed that southern voters are least likely to associate themselves with any political party or to have a strong association with any party that they do support. 27% of voters don’t identify with a party which is 3% higher than the national average, and that of those that do associate with a political party, southern voters are the least likely to have a ‘very strong’ association with that party (just 13% of those that make the association, 3.51% of total respondents).
At the same time, southern voters have similar views on specific issues to those in other parts of the country. An August 2012 YouGov/The Sun poll shows there is little regional variation on what the ‘most important issues facing the country’ are. On the economy, immigration, health, Europe, pensions, crime, and tax, there is never more than 2% difference between the South and other regions. In the South, as elsewhere, the economy is by far the most important issue facing the country, followed by immigration.
We can tentatively suggest two things: that Labour is more likely to gain support in the South if it appears to be open and avoids a sectarian or divisive image; and that it will be easier to mobilise support for progressive change if political parties show a general openness to working together.
A willingness to work together based on shared values not only wins voters in the South and gets non-voters to the ballot box, it reflects well on the Labour party across the country and, most importantly of all, it is the only way to achieve lasting progressive change.
ANNEX 1: Demos, YouGov. 5-21st May 2010.Sample: 92733 GB adults (Page 9)
Which of these statements do you most agree with?
“The credit crunch showed that neo-liberalism is fundamentally flawed. We need a totally new economic model less drive by short term profit and the free market logic”
12% (8% Con, 14% Lab, 13% Lib Dem)
“The credit crunch was not just a massive failure of the banking system but it revealed some big problems with our wider economy. We need a more stable, balanced and sustainable economy in the years ahead”
51% (58% Con, 44% Lab, 55% Lib Dem)
“The credit crunch was a massive failure of the banking system. It needs to be better regulated in the future, but we shouldn’t overreact as our basic model has served us well”
24% (24% Con, 31% Lab, 21% Lib Dem)
None of them
3% (3% Con, 2% Lab, 3% Lib Dem)
9% (7% Con, 9% Lab, 8% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 2: Demos, YouGov. 5-21st May 2010.Sample: 92733 GB adults
Which of these statements comes closes to your view?
“The Government should do far more to help the poor and tax everyone else to pay for this help”
13% (4% Con, 24% Lab, 10% Lib Dem)
“The poor should take far more responsibility for their own circumstances; the government should hand out less money in benefits and reduce taxes”
29% (51% Con, 14% Lab, 27% Lib Dem)
“The current balance between taxes and help for the poor is about right”
6% (7% Con, 6% Lab, 13% Lib Dem)
“What matters is not whether taxes and benefits go up or down, but whether the Government distributes welfare benefits fairly and sensibly”.
43% (34% Con, 48% Lab, 46% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 3: Demos, YouGov. 5-21st May 2010.Sample: 92733 GB adults (Page 21)
Which of these statements do you most agree with?
“Trade Unions are a relic of an industrial age that is now long gone. They just get in the way of an efficient economy and individual workers solving their own problems”
25% (46% Con, 10% Lab, 19% Lib Dem)
“Trade Unions are essential to preventing the interests of big business and bad management trampling over those of workers”
18% (8% Con, 25% Lab, 21% Lib Dem)
“Trade unions have an important role to play in bringing people together to improve conditions at work and to help employees when they need it”
42% (34% Con, 51% Lab, 48% Lib Dem)
None of them
7% (6% Con, 5% Lab, 5% Lib Dem)
9% (6% Con, 8% Lab, 7% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 4: YouGov, 30 June-1 July 2011. Sample: 2785 GB adults
Thinking about the disagreements between the government and the trade unions. Do you think the trade unions are acting reasonably or unreasonably?
Totally reasonably 43% (14% Con, 70% Lab, 41% Lib Dem)
Totally unreasonably 46% (82% Con, 21% Lab, 53% Lib Dem)
Don’t know 10% (4% Con, 9% Lab, 6% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 5: YouGov, 24-25 May 2012. Sample: 1640 GB adults
Do you think it is too easy or too difficult for companies to dismiss underperforming employees, or is the present balance about right?
“It is too easy for companies to dismiss employees and they should have more protection”
17% (6% Con, 26% Lab, 19% Lib Dem)
“It is too difficult for companies to dismiss employees and they should be made easier to sack”
39% (66% Con, 23% Lab, 30% Lib Dem)
“The current balance is about right”
33% (23% Con, 40% Lab, 47% Lib Dem)
11% (5% Con, 10% Lab, 4% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 6: Demos, YouGov. 5-21st May 2010.Sample: 92733 GB adults (Page 21)
Which of these statements do you most agree with?
“In general, I think government is a force for good. It helps improve my life and my family. It’s normally part of the solution not the problem”
32% (28% Con, 48% Lab, 33% Lib Dem)
“In general, government doesn’t really seem to have much impact on my life and that of my family”
18% (17% Con, 17% Lab, 19% Lib Dem)
‘In general, I think government gets in the way and makes my life and that of my family harder. Overall it’s part of the problem not the solution”
29% (37% Con, 15% Lab, 26% Lib Dem)
None of them
14% (13% Con, 14% Lab, 16% Lib Dem)
7% (6% Con, 6% Lab, 6% Lib Dem)
ANNEX 7: YouGov, 17-18 May 2012.
73% of people say the government should be looking to use more solar power than at present (69% Cons, 74% Lab, 83% LD).
53% of people said the government should be looking to use more wind power than at present (44% Cons, 61% Lab, 69% LD).
37% of people say the government should be looking to use more nuclear power than at present (56% Cons, 27% Lab, 41% LD).