AS we drift towards a potential economic crisis, leaders find themselves constrained in their policy choices by public opinion. The rational leader model, which imagines political decision-makers as first seeking expert advice, coming to conclusions based on analysis of evidence, and then winning the argument in public, doesn’t fit today’s reality, if it ever did. The continually felt presence of public opinion creates the conditions within which leaders merely manoeuvre.
In Germany, a YouGov poll shows Angela Merkel facing 3-to-1 opposition to spending German tax revenues on bailing out the Greeks, and approval for keeping the euro is in the balance at 48 per cent to 44 per cent.
She is caught between what her advisers say and what the public says, and hence seems unable to act.
Here in the UK, high anxiety about the economy provides politicians an easy pay-off for attacking high-earners. A recent YouGov poll showed 2-to-1 support for the 50p income tax band even though, by the same margin, they thought it either made no difference to the economy or actually damaged it.
Forty-two per cent said that even if it brought in no extra revenue, it was “morally right” that the rich should pay more. Such an environment makes it harder for the chancellor to champion pro-growth policies.
However, the coalition government retains support for their policy of cuts from roughly half of the population (August figures showed 40 per cent say we should be cutting public spending less versus 46 per cent who say it’s about right or we should cut more).
But there’s little sense among the public that we’re making much headway out of the current economic malaise. According to YouGov’s Household Economic Activity Tracker, sentiment towards job security and growth among working consumers in the UK remains stagnant.
Since April, sentiment has not fallen lower than -15.9 per cent nor risen above -12.8 per cent, remaining within a range of just three per cent. Positive sentiment in April at 13.2 per cent is at exactly the same point of 13.2 per cent in August. Stephan Shakespeare is the chief executive of YouGov