How have recent Budgets affected polling?

With the budget looming tomorrow, it is useful to know what we can expect based on previous years – regarding whether it can help George Osborne and the Conservatives start to turn things around in the polling. There is both good news and bad news for him.

This is Osborne’s 4th budget – in this analysis therefore, we will be looking at the four most recent Labour budgets for some sort of comparison point.

Year of Budget Average Party score from 10 polls before Average Party score from 10 polls after Avg govt. lead from 10 polls before Avg govt. lead from 10 polls after Change in Avg. govt. lead
  Con Lab Lib Con Lab Lib      
2007 38.8 31.2 18 37.1 31.1 18.8 -7.6 -6 1.6
2008 39.8 33 16.6 40.6 31.3 18 -6.8 -9.3 -2.5
2009 41.9 29.4 18.3 41.2 24.3 18.2 -12.5 -16.9 -4.4
2010 36.4 31.4 18.6 37.7 30 19.7 -5 -7.7 -2.2
2010 (emergency) 39 32.1 19.6 41 35 16.1 6.9 6 -0.9
2011 35.2 41.7 9.8 35.9 41.9 10.1 -6.5 -6 0.5
2012 36.6 40.1 9.8 33.4 42 9.3 -3.5 -8.6 -5.1

The figures used are the ten polls taken closest to before the Budget – and then the ten polls taken three days or later after the Budget – this gives the bad or good news from the Budget time to ‘sink-in’ – and in my view is a more accurate measure than polls taken immediately after the Budget, where the press often focus on one specific piece of news.

The key figure is the difference in average government lead, before and after the budgets. In the last seven budgets, two have resulted in an increase in government lead, whilst the other five have resulted in decreases. The two increases are also fairly small – 0.5 & 1.6 – whereas some of the increases are rather more substantial.

George Osborne can perhaps take heart from the fact that his first two Budgets did not affect the Conservatives poll ratings too negatively at all – in fact his 2011 Budget resulted in a small improvement in their position. However, the Conservative Party will be extremely worried by the 2012 figure. In the space of just a few polls, the Labour lead stretched to a further five points – this cannot be a coincidence. The key point from this Budget was the cutting of the top tax rate from 50% to 45% – whether you agree with this or not, it cannot be denied that this did not look good for the Conservatives’ ‘we’re all in this together’ approach.

What is interesting though, is that the Budget where Alastair Darling first announced the 50p tax rate actually saw Labour’s position sink by 4.4 points. Are the public simply wary of any change to the top tax rate? 

The most successful Budget on our list in terms of polling was 2007 – this is perhaps unsurprising. This was the most recent Budget before the global financial crisis, and Gordon Brown was actually able to cut income tax from 22p to 20p for middle-income earners – this was always going to be a popular move.

So what can George Osborne draw from this? He obviously does not have much to work with, and more cuts are likely. It may be that this is just a Budget of survival for him and the Conservatives – they may actually be happy to take a 0.9% drop in the polls such as in 2010 – but another performance like 2012 is simply unthinkable for the Tories. Osborne must be aware that if the content – and perhaps more importantly, the delivery – of his Budget is not up to scratch, it may well end up being his last. Osborne is widely regarded as the weakest link for the Conservatives – and a change prior to the election may be one of the last throws of the dice that David Cameron has left.

Thanks to UKPollingReport – all raw data was taken from their poll archives – if anyone is interested in seeing the data tables I constructed to reach the final table pictured above – please feel free to Tweet me @roadto326

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