Six public opinion trends from 2013

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
December 30, 2013, 12:07 PM GMT+0

Anthony Wells, associate director of political research at YouGov, outlines key developments in public opinion from the last 12 months

1) The Labour lead narrowed

Labour's lead has gradually eroded over 2013. Looking at an average of polls from all companies, we started the new year showing a Labour lead of around about ten points. It started falling in the spring as the economy improved, and continued over the summer. There appeared to be something of a reverse in the autumn, one assumes because of the impact of Labour's energy pledge and the political narrative focusing on gas and electricity prices for a few weeks, but we still ended the year with an average Labour lead of six points, compared to ten. Note however, that the majority of this change came from Labour losing support, dropping from an average of 42% in the polls to 39% - there has been comparatively little increase in Tory support.

2) People got more optimistic about the economy

While people remain strongly pessimistic about their household finances, they have got significantly less pessimistic since last year, an increase that was particularly evident at the start of the year. And while people still expect their personal finances to get worse next year, there are signs of genuine optimism about the wider economy - earlier this monthYouGov found 43% of people now think the economy is showing signs of recovery or is well on the way to recovery, up from 37% in August and just 14% in April.

3) The Conservatives have moved ahead on the economy

As the economy has improved, it has had an impact on political attitudes towards the economy. At the start of 2013 the Conservative and Labour parties were essentially neck and neck on the economy. As the year progressed the Conservatives gradually pulled ahead and established a consistent lead.

Other trackers have moved in the same direction. Since the end of 2010 our fortnightly trackers on attitudes towards the cuts had consistently shown that while people thought the spending cuts were necessary, they thought they were bad for the economy. That reversed in September and now finds more people think that the cuts are good for the country's economy, than think they are damaging. However, while preferences on who people trust to manage the economy are heading in the Conservatives direction, Labour still leadon their preferred ground of prices and living standards.

4) But people have started to care more about other issues

Our tracker on what issues people think are most important has shown the economy as the number one issue since we started this version of the question in 2010, and it remains there today. However, it's dominance has begun to fade over 2013. Back in 2012 we consistently found over 70%picking out the economy. In 2013 it fell below 70%, presumably as a result of people starting to think the economy is improving, and in the final December poll dropped down to 58%. At the same time other issues have risen up the agenda, most notably that of immigration - our December polls we found immigration the second most mentioned issue.

5) UKIP have continued to gather strength

The advance of UKIP in the polls has continued, though perhaps hampered by the lack of any elections or by-elections in the second half of 2013. UKIP's support so far this Parliament has been a series of spikes and plateaus, seeing sudden increases in their poll ratings on the back of election successes like Rotherham, Eastleigh and local elections and the ensuing publicity and then flattening out again until the next opportunity to demonstrate their support comes along. This has certainly been the pattern in 2013 - they started the year at just below 10% in the polls, enjoyed a big jump in national support following their successes in the county council elections and, since the publicity boost from the county elections faded have rather stagnated. They still end 2013 above where they started, and have the inevitable publicity boost of the European elections to come next year.

6) Ed Miliband's ratings went down, and up, and down again

Ed Miliband's miserable job approval questions have continued to go downwards, with one notable exception. Three companies do regular questions on what people think of the party leaders - MORI ask if people are satisfied or dissatisfied, Opinium if people approve or disapprove, our own YouGov tracker asks if they are doing a good or bad job. All three show that Ed Miliband's ratings have been on a downwards trend for most of the year, but he enjoyed a reverse after the party conference and his energy price pledge, briefly reversing some of the year so far's decline. All three measures still showed him ending the year with lower approval ratings than he began with.

This is a modified version of a post that appeared on Anthony Wells' blog UK Polling Report.

Image: Getty

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