The Budget last week demonstrates that in politics, while you can win the public opinion battle over specific policies, you can still lose the war over broader narratives.
In terms of the individual policies, Deltapoll tested eight of the most significant policies announced in the Budget and found that, among GB adults as a whole, all had more respondents supporting them than opposing them. Support ranged from more than eight in ten (82%) supporting the increase in funding to fill potholes in the road and 81% supporting the extension of the Energy Price Guarantee, to nearly four in ten (38%) supporting the removal of the Life Time Allowance and 37% supporting corporation tax at 25%.
While this is good news for the government, public opinion is (inevitably) more complicated than that. In the artificial construct of a survey instrument you can ask respondents about individual policies, but in the real world the vast majority of people are not paying close attention to the detail.
Instead, it is the broad narratives that are more important – and on those measures the government are not doing so well. More than four in ten British adults (42%) believe the Budget overall is ‘along the wrong lines’ compared to fewer than a third (31%) who think the opposite. Similarly, nearly half (47%) believe it is ‘not fair’ with only just over a quarter (26%) thinking the opposite. Even among Conservative voters, fewer than half hold positive views on either measure.
It is this range of findings that helps explain why the tracking data on economic management remains unchanged, with Labour maintaining a twelve point lead over the Conservatives. Of all the broad narratives, it is this measure that is perhaps the most important. After all, it has never been the case that a party has been behind on economic management and leadership and won the most seats at a general election.
The Budget may win some over to supporting the Conservatives, but for more lasting change in greater numbers, it is likely that a stronger performance on broad narratives will be needed.