Peter Hoskin

A worrying – but not disastrous – poll for the government

A worrying – but not disastrous – poll for the government
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This morning's Times/Populus poll (£) will have supporters of the coalition grimacing into their cornflakes. The headline finding is bad enough, if rather familiar, with Labour closing the gap between themselves and the Tories to only two points. But what follows is worse. According to the poll, around three-quarters of voters reject the government's deficit reduction strategy – preferring, instead, what are loosely the approaches advocated by Labour and the unions. And, what's more, economic pessmism is arrowing upwards. The number of respondents who think "the country as a whole will fare badly," has risen by 13 percentage points since June. The number who think "me and my family will do badly" has gone up by 6 points. At a time when the economic argument is synonymous with the political argument, these are far from happy tidings for the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

But the coalition needn't hit the panic button just yet. In spite of that specific question about deficit reduction strategies, 53 percent of respondents say that the government is handling the economy well. And 59 percent are happy with the coalition overall, against 36 percent who aren't. Admittedly, those numbers are slipping in a negative direction – but, as it stands, this poll is not a sign of rank unpopularity.

The lesson for the coalition is one that has been made with machine gun regularity over the past few weeks: it needs to do more to sell its economic policy. A couple of months ago, it looked almost as though the argument had been won. But with the spending review approaching, the government's rhetorical basis for cuts is weakening. The problem may be that the struggle is taking place on numerous fronts: laying the blame onto Labour, preparing the public for the scale of what's to come, countering the shouts of "regressive" from the sidelines, and so on. But, then, it's these situations when the bully pulpit of government should come into its own.