Party Allegiance and the National Debt

Always ask for a voting intention cross-break on public policy polls. It may cost a little more, but it allows you to break down the results according to party political preference in exactly the same way as one might for age, gender, or region. Crucially, it will help you understand how people’s politics affects their views.  Quite often the effect will be dramatic.

The stereotypes are mostly true: Labour voters are more favourable towards public spending projects; Liberal Democrats are more likely to believe in anthropogenic climate change; and Conservatives are more sceptical towards greater integration with the EU.

With this in mind we added a voting intention (VI) cross-break to a set of questions we ran for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) this week. Asking the public about the national debt and what proportion of national income government spending should account for, we expected some significant differences along party lines.

On one question in particular though, the surprise was the lack of difference. This was no minor point of technical policy; rather it was the more fundamental ‘what proportion of the UK’s national income should government spending account for?’ As you can see the results were startlingly similar.

GB adult mean: 33%
Conservative voters mean: 33%
Labour voters mean: 35%
Liberal Democrat voters mean: 34%

Surprisingly, on this point of ideological fundamentalism (how much should the government spend), voters from the three main parties are much closer than you might expect – within two percentage points of one another. And perhaps most notably, voters from all the parties – on average – believe that government spending should be a much lower proportion of the economy than it is now (around 40%).

Almost all cerebral economic commentators have noted the cigarette paper-thin difference between the Coalition’s spending plans and Labour’s plan B – in contrast to the rhetorical chasm. In very general terms, it seems the views of their respective voting caucuses are also tighter than one might assume from the rhetoric.  But neither party’s plans is close to the majority view in terms of what is a desirable level of Government spending.


Online survey of 2050 GB adults, weighted to be demographically representative of the adult population, with VI cross-break. Fieldwork 8th – 10th July 2011.

Q3. By the time of the next election the current Government's plan is to spend around 40% of the UK's national income each year. What proportion of the nation's income do you think the government should be aiming to spend?

Less than 25%; between 25% and 35%; between 35% and 45%; more than 45%; don’t know.

IEA report @