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Co-operation, Compromise and Cuts

The media would have us believe that Tories and Lib Dems make for a nervous coalition, but Ipsos MORI tells a different story

Ipsos MORI's recent polling shows that expectations of the Coalition government remain high. Its "honeymoon" bounce is topped only by Blair's Labour in 1997, and it has won public confidence that it can mend our economy. But what lies beneath this optimism?

Discussion groups with those who voted Conservative and Liberal Democrat at the general election, conducted for Reuters, provide a nuanced insight into what voters really think about the Coalition and, crucially, planned spending cuts.

These two groups are positive about the Coalition, seeing it as vibrant and enthusiastic, providing a genuine opportunity for change and the realisation of new policy. Some Liberal Democrat voters also feel that the Coalition has encouraged the Conservatives to be more open and transparent in government. Other Liberal Democrats are more muted in their praise; less confident about the way things are going, and conscious that the Conservatives are perceived to be making most of the decisions.

The key challenge ahead is the economy, and the public is slowly becoming resigned to the inevitability of spending cuts. There is a feeling that the government is pursuing the right course — over half of the public (57%) feel that its policies will improve the state of Britain's economy and only 37% disagree.

Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters in the groups recognised the need for cuts. Many also appreciated the honesty the government is showing and feel that it has been bold in taking on the problem: “I think that cuts had to be made … it's more beneficial that we do it now to get the books straight” (Female, Conservative).

There is, however, concern about how they will be implemented. Some Liberal Democrats felt it unfair to impose a "blanket" of economic restraint over the whole country, as this could penalise those most vulnerable. Conservative voters seemed to have more faith in the Coalition's policies, and were more inclined to support the wide-ranging nature of the cuts.

Both groups — particularly Conservatives — felt that combating benefit fraud and removing the ability for people to live comfortable lives on benefits without having to look for work are two key priorities for the Coalition.

Despite a strong start, it remains to be seen where public opinion of the Coalition will sit after the cuts are implemented, and, should the future bring increasing dissatisfaction, whether this will encourage the Coalition parties to co-operate and compromise further, or drift apart. The government would be wise to use this honeymoon period to persuade the public of the importance of policies that may well prove unpopular when cuts start to bite.

 

Helen Cleary
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