Tuesday 14 September 2010

Poll: Labour members and trade unionists are in tune with general public on cuts

We reported last night the findings of the new Populus poll for The Times ,which shows that 22 per cent of voters support the elimination of the structural deficit in one Parliament (as the Coalition plans) and that three-quarters of voters think that is too much, too soon, with 37 per cent prefer to halve the decicit in the Parliament (as the Labour government proposed), while 37 per cent think deficit reduction should be a lower priority than unemployment and protecting the vulnerable.

The YouGov leadership poll means we can also compare public attitudes to those of Labour party members and trade unionists.

Many commentators will suggest the new Labour leader will have an important task of speaking to the country with their response on this issue, while keeping the party on board, and perhaps facing criticism from the unions for too moderate a response. The Populus and YouGov polls suggest that they are less likely to be tugged in starkly different directions than media discussion tends to suggest.

In fact, though this is not always the case on major public issues, on the issue of the scale and speed of deficit reduction, the attitudes of Labour members and trade unionists is very similar to that of the general public.

This was the YouGov question. (You can get the PDFs from the full poll links on this commentary).

Thinking about how Labour approaches the coalition government's programme of cuts to public spending, which of the following best reflects your view?

Labour should oppose the cuts on principle - they are damaging and unnecessary to the country: 25% of party members, 26% of levy paying trade unionists.

Labour should accept the principle of cuts, but oppose the size, detail and timing as being extreme and damaging to the country. 56% of party members; 48% of trade unionists.

Labour should accept the principle and size of the cuts, but oppose specific cuts where they are damaging to public services, proposing alternative ways the money could be saved. 17% of party members, 22% of trade unionists.

Labour should support the Coalition's cuts as regrettable, but necessary for the health of the economy. 1% of both party members and trade unionists.

None of these: 1% of both groups. Don't know: 1% of both groups.

If we collate the two "accept the size of cuts" responses, then Labour members split 25% on "stop the cuts"; 56% on "reduce the cuts" and 18% on "accept the cuts", and Labour-supporting trade unionists 26-48-23.

The (broadly comparable) Populus poll suggests the public split 37-37-22 between anti-cuts, reduced cuts and Coalition cuts options (though in that poll the "oppose cuts" option was slightly more moderately worded as 'deprioritise the deficit').

Still, the two polls suggest that both Labour party members and trade unionists have views which chime with the public, and may even be a little more accepting of the need for some, but fewer, cuts to reduce the deficit than the general public.

On the deficit, as in several aspects of the YouGov poll, trade union respondents seem to be slightly to the 'right' of party members, perhaps counter-intuitively being a little more positive about the public value of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson than party members.


John Rentoul wonders why YouGov found that 34% of trade unionists have already voted, and that up to 75% intend to vote. Given that turnout at 8% in 2007 deputy leadership and 19% in the 1994 leadership election, most anticipate affiliate turnout may well be somewhere around 25% (in a closer election, and with internet voting). I expect the reason would be that YouGov have again polled only the 40% of affiliated trade union members who are Labour supporters. Though I did not spot any methodological note on the September poll, Peter Kellner wrote this about the trade union screening of the July YouGov poll.

... will differential turnout affect who wins? If the supporters of one Miliband prove to be more determined than the other to support their preferred candidate, the result could be different. This is especially true in the trade union section, where turnout is likely to be lower than among party members or MPs. Our voting figures are based on roughly one third of the membership of the unions that are affiliated to the Labour Party. We have excluded the 60% who say they are not Labour Party supporters; among the remaining 40% the voting figures we have excluded the 18% who express no preference for any of the candidates.

Three-quarters of this group voting would probably equate to around 25% turnout of the three to four million ballots issued to levy payers of affiliated unions. (Though non-Labour supporters are among levy payers, they would have to self-certify that they share Labour's aims and values if they wanted to cast a ballot).

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