46% believed the budget was not fair while 32% believed it was fair.
An interesting detail is a significant sixteen point rise in public support for the 50p tax rate on earnings over £150,000, since the measure has been announced.
That was backed by 68% of the public, according to the Telegraph report of their post-budget YouGov poll.
As Alastair Darling sat down, I noted that our YouGov/Fabian poll at the end of November 2008 found 52% support for that measure, with 28% against, whereas the 45p top rate which had been announced in the pre-budget report had 76% support with 13% against. I wondered whether announcing the move would increase support for it, and give a result closer to that on the 50p rate.
It seems clear that the narrow plurality of Tory voters 38-45 against the measure will now be a plurality in favour. (I will update this post with the party breakdowns if and when I can get them).
One can read this in different ways.
Fabian social democrats can note that the government are to some extent makers as well as takers of public opinion. It is difficult to stand up the 'abandoning the centre-ground' charge for a move which has such wide public support. New Labour made the income tax issue totemic. They did not need to. A more progressive tax structure could easily be defended in New Labour terms, as the windfall tax was.
But the right can read it differently. Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome (as a critic of Tory acquiescence to the move) could legitimately argue that the failure to contest an increase in the top rate of taxation both 'ratifies' a change by making it part of the new status quo and centre-ground, weakening the political taboo on higher taxes which the right wishes to keep.
Labour took the wrong lesson from its 1992 defeat. But the problem was trust in confidence in Labour governing, rather more than the specific tax changes proposed. Indeed, 63% of voters in 1997 expected Labour to raise taxes, compared to 66% in 1992, and this was again the case in 2001. As Mark Gill wrote in Fabian Review back in 2005 in a piece examining myths about tax and the electorate:
All told, the voters elected Tony Blair with a landslide in 1997, expecting him to increase taxes, and re-elected him in 2001 believing that his Government had done so, and would do so again.
There is a decent centrist 'one nation' challenge to the idea that those earning £250,000 in the city must not pay a higher rate than deputy headteachers and senior police officers earning £45,000.