Pre-Budget Polling Shows Labour’s Lead Remains at 16 Points
New polling conducted in the days leading up to the Budget shows Labour’s lead over the Conservatives remains stable at +16 points. Despite the Prime Minister’s announcement of a proposed overhaul of UK asylum law, which would legally require authorities to deport anyone who arrives in the UK illegally if they have already passed through country deemed safe, Labour’s +16 point lead is consistent with our last voting intention poll, conducted between 2nd – 3rd March.
Although Sunak will be hoping the proposed asylum bill facilitates the attainment of his pledge to ‘stop small boats’ from entering the UK, the announcement does not appear to have narrowed Labour’s lead. However, both the Conservatives’ and Labour’s vote share increased +3 points since the beginning of March, while the Liberal Democrats (-2), Greens (-1), and Reform UK (-1) all saw their share of the vote decline.
Three of Sunak’s five pledges are explicitly related to Britain’s economic performance (grow the economy, halve the rate of inflation, and reduce national debt) and economic issues, specifically related to the cost of living, are consistently identified by the public as the most pressing concerns facing the country. Sunak will be pleased, then, that he leads Starmer by +6 on trust with the economy. The Prime Minister has seemingly avoided association with his predecessor’s toxic mini-budget, but his pledges could make the public’s trust contingent on the achievement of his objectives. Although the latest OBR forecasts are somewhat more favourable towards Britain’s economic outlook, household disposable income is still expected to fall by a cumulative 5.7 per cent over the two financial years 2022-23 and 2023-24 – the largest two-year fall in real living standards since records began in the 1950s.
These economic forecasts are problematic for the Government. In polling conducted at the beginning of March, respondents were asked to rank their confidence in the ability of the government to address a range of issues on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is not confident at all and 5 is very confident. On the economy, NET not confident (1 + 2) stood at 48%, which is more than double the 22% who were NET confident (4 + 5).
Despite Sunak’s lead over Starmer on economic trust, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (34%) trails his opposition counterpart Rachel Reeves (39%) on trust with the economy. Where 16% of those who intend to vote Labour said they trust Sunak more than Starmer/Don’t know, Hunt is less palatable with prospective Labour voters as only 9% trust him more than Reeves/Don’t know.
The Chancellor’s Budget was widely briefed to the press ahead of Wednesday, leaving little room for surprises at the dispatch box. As seen below, much of the public expected the announced support on both energy bills and childcare.
Despite extensively pre-briefing much of the Budget’s content, just 18% of respondents thought it would improve their personal economic situation. Those who intend to vote Labour in the next election were more than twice as likely as those intending to vote Conservative to say they thought the budget would worsen their personal economic situation.
With average energy bills expected to fall to £2,500 and 71% of the public believing energy bills should be an area of priority for the Chancellor, Hunt’s decision to keep the Energy Price Guarantee at £2,500 and postpone the intended increase was fairly straightforward. The concern with grocery prices can be interpreted as a call for action on slowing the rate of inflation, but interestingly just 19% of respondents thought pay should be an area of priority, perhaps pushed into joint third place due to extreme grocery price (+17% from last year) and energy bill pressures.
Hunt argued his budget concentrated on encouraging some of Britain’s 6.6 million working age adults who are classed as economically inactive to reenter the workforce. To incentivise reentry, Hunt announced greater Government support towards the cost of childcare. Under proposed reforms, all parents working at least 16 hours per week will be able claim 30 hours of free childcare for children aged between nine months and four. With 48% of respondents believing the Government should encourage stay-at-home parents to reenter work and only 34% opposed, the policy could be economically productive and popular. Alongside childcare reforms was the removal of the cap on lifetime tax-free pensions allowance, previously set at £1.073m. To Hunt, this will encourage NHS doctors who opted for early retirement to reenter the labour force, yet Labour is leading their post-budget attack on giving a tax-cut to an already wealthy segment of society. As only 38% thought the Government should encourage early retirees to reenter the workforce prior to the budget, Labour’s post-budget opposition to the proposed pensions reforms may prove politically salient.
Labour’s +16 point lead over the Conservatives remains consistent. With few surprises announced in Wednesday’s extensively leaked Budget, the Chancellor’s proposals are unlikely to have significantly shifted public opinion over the past two days. As the economy is currently at the forefront of political contest, both parties will be hoping to control the narrative on Britain’s economic performance. For the Conservatives, this means fulfilling their three economic pledges. If met, Starmer may struggle to overturn Sunak’s lead on trust with the economy. That said, it will take more than trust in the Prime Minister’s economic competence to overturn Labour’s robust lead in the polls.
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Survation conducted an online poll of 1,011 adults aged 18+ in the UK. Fieldwork was conducted between 13th and 15th March 2023. Tables are available here.
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