This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Looking both ways at once

Last week, we pointed out the interesting finding lurking in a ComRes poll, which showed that on one of the central dividing lines of this election, the public appeared to have contradictory views.

Some 61% wanted the Government to “maintain current public spending plans in order to keep the recovery going”, whilst 57% wanted them to “cut public spending now to avoid higher taxes later”. The public seemed to want both of two completely contradictory stances.

Amusing (or depressing?) as it was, of course, this didn’t tell you how many of the public held such contradictory views, merely that the ‘public’, in the aggregate, did. Thanks to Andrew Hawkins of ComRes, however, who has now supplied some more detailed data, we can identify Britain’s confused voters in a bit more detail.

First, there’s a handful of respondents who refused to answer one or both of the questions, along with 15% of the sample who said that they didn’t know to one or either option.

That leaves four more substantive groups. There were those who a) wanted spending maintained and not cut (26%), and there were those who b) wanted spending cut and not maintained (21%). That makes 47% of the survey who took a logically consistent position.

But a full 31% of the sample came out in favour of both options. That is, they wanted spending both cut and maintained. That is more than came out for either a) or b).

There was also some 7% who rejected both options. In itself, this isn’t illogical (and certainly not as illogical as wanting both options). I might reject both options because in fact I favour increasing spending, an option that wasn’t provided.

Or I could favour maintaining spending but not ‘in order to keep the recovery going’, but for some other reason. Similarly, I might want a cut in public spending, but not ‘to avoid higher taxes later’. So we should assume some of those 7% are answering logically.

Equally, however, we suspect that some are just inconsistent. With no other way of dividing them, let’s split them 50/50.

That makes roughly 50% - just half – of voters who gave consistent answers to those two questions, whilst 35% - or more than a third – who gave inconsistent answers. And remember: this was hardly some minor, trivial, issue, but one of the key dividing lines between the two main parties.

Who’d be a politician faced with voters like that?

Professor Philip Cowley

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