What happened in 2012?

Through 2012, I kept track of five questions on the issues shaping UK politics. For a final time, I’m revisiting them to see how they’ve changed and where we are now:

1) More attention to growth

Until the omnishambles Budget, the country was pretty evenly split on whether the government should slow deficit reduction to concentrate on growth.

After the Budget, ‘concentrate on growth’ opened a lead that stayed above 6pts, and reached 17pts after dire economic figures in the summer.  But in the poll conducted immediately after the Autumn Statement, views were back to being evenly split.

Not only is this important for debates about the future of the economy, but it also says something interesting about the public’s relationship with political news. I’m often quite an exponent of the view “the politerati are talking to themselves, the rest of the country couldn’t give a stuff”. But the shifts in attitudes after the Budget and the Autumn Statement are a reminder that some political news does get widespread attention and change attitudes.

 More on this question here

2) Speed of cuts 

After holding steady for most of the year, the proportion saying the cuts are being made too quickly has now fallen a bit further, to 44%.

Clearly this isn’t good for the credibility of Labour’s line “too far, too fast”. This will be an interesting one to keep watching when more cuts start to bite. For example will personal experience of cuts to child benefits and the 1% cap start affecting views of cuts in general?


3) Blame for the cuts 

This is another one that hasn’t moved far in Labour’s direction. Over 2012, the proportion blaming Labour for the cuts fell from 39% to 36%: hardly a radical shift.

At the same time though, the coalition have started picking up a bit more of the blame: up from 22% in January to 27% at the end of the year.

But this still means that two and half years into the government, more people blame Labour for the cuts than the current government.

More on this question here

4) Old and tired 

But underneath the economic questions, there’s a host of measures about how the parties are viewed. One of the important ones is about whether they’re seen as old and tired.

Over 2012, Labour overtook the Tories as being seen as less old and tired – going from 15pts behind to 7pts ahead.

Going into an election campaign while being seen as out of fresh ideas is not a good basis for winning votes. Think the Tories in 1997 and Labour in 2010.

That said, elections aren’t always principally about change and fresh ideas. Sometimes they’re more about competence and reassurance, when being seen as old and tired matters less. Nevertheless, this isn’t good news for the Tories so early into their term.


5) Leaving the EU

Throughout the year, the question of the UK’s membership of the EU has kept coming up. With the Euro elections not too far off, it’s pretty much inevitable that it’ll be discussed throughout 2013, even if Cameron finally does get round to making his fabled speech on the EU.

Opinion has been pretty consistent in a majority wanting to have a referendum (but then people always say they want referendums) and a plurality saying they’d then vote to leave. But as I’ve argued before, there are good reasons to think a referendum could lead to a vote to stay in the EU.

Nevertheless, so long as polls keep showing more people wanting to leave, the story’s going to keep being pushed by Eurosceptics.

More on this question here

That’s it for the 2012 questions. Of course all these will keep on being interesting in 2013 too, so we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of them.

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