Economic revival, but who benefits?

The latest ComRes / ITV News polling shows the most positive consumer economic outlook since the series began in October 2010. For first time, fewer people expect the economy to slide back into recession than do not.

There has been much discussion in recent weeks about who will benefit electorally from economic recovery. Generally speaking, the Conservatives are given the credit for restoring the country’s economic credibility, but Labour are seen as being more even-handed over how the proceeds of recovery will be distributed.

The Conservatives face several major challenges in this respect. First, the public are not feeling the effects of economic recovery on their own household finances. As our poll last month for the Independent on Sunday / Sunday Mirror found, while the Conservatives lead Labour on “keeping the economy growing”, Labour lead the Conservatives on a wider range of measures including “making my family better off”, “getting the cost of living down” and “protecting people’s jobs”. It is hardly surprising then that fully seven in ten people report not feeling more prosperous personally despite the better economic news. Recovery is still an abstract concept to most and will be until wage growth picks up again.

Agree Disagree
‘Things in this country are generally heading in the right direction’      41% 41%
‘The UK is on course for another wave of recession’ 34% 36%

(ComRes/ITV News November 2013)


Second, the pressure on household bills continues to play to Ed Miliband’s political messaging. Despite the fact that fewer people think Mr Miliband is able to deliver on his promise of freezing energy prices than think he cannot, by a ratio of more than two to one the public would prefer to see action taken to reduce household bills than get tax cuts.

Significantly perhaps, women are much more likely than men to be downbeat about the country’s economic prospects: 39% think Britain is ‘on course for another recession’ compared to only 28% of men who say the same. This may go some way to accounting for the apparent disjunction between perceived growth and actual household finances.

On the positive side for the Conservatives, the proportion who think “things in this country are generally heading in the right direction” is at its highest since October 2010. Forty-one percent are negative on this question and 41% positive. But people in younger age groups and on lower incomes are significantly less positive about this measure.

Overall a clear picture is emerging of economic recovery being felt by older voters and the better off, but much less so by the young and the worse off. For now, it is too soon to determine whether this is down simply to time-lag or if there is something deeper happening which will have electoral consequences in 2015.

Either way, it should not be assumed that economic recovery will automatically help the Conservatives. In the run-up to the 1997 Election, John Major’s administration was seen as best at managing the economy by 45% to Labour’s 23% - shortly before suffering the worst election defeat in Conservative history. David Cameron has no alternative than to play to the tune of Ed Miliband’s calling and hope that household disposable incomes catch up with the strengthening economy. He hasn’t got long.


Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,010 British adults online for ITV News between 15th and 17th November 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.


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