The Conservative party has shored up its advantage on the crucial economic battleground for the next general election, according to a new ICM poll shared exclusively with the Guardian.
After David Cameron’s well-reviewed conference speech last week, which promised income tax cuts, 39% of voters say the prime minister and the chancellor, George Osborne, are the team they would most trust “to manage the economy properly”, compared with just 19% who say they would trust the opposition Labour leader, Ed Miliband and his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
That 20-point advantage to the Tories is the widest gap that ICM has recorded on economic competence since December 2011, when – with memories of the Brown administration recent, and with Osborne’s “omnishambles” 2012 budget still in the future – the Conservative lead on this score briefly hit 21 points.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, got his most negative rating ever in a measure of whether he was doing a good job or not.
A fortnight after Miliband was criticised for omitting passages of his planned conference speech which dealt with the deficit, the 19% of voters signalling trust in Labour to run the economy equals the party’s previous record low on this question, which was recorded in June 2013 (pdf). The wider finding of the ICM analysis is deep, and in many cases deepening, mistrust of Britain’s political leaders. Some 46% of respondents rate Cameron as doing a “bad job”, compared with 39% who say he is acquitting himself well. The gap between these two gives a net approval rating of –7, a score which has slipped from –5 in June, and +2 in May.
Miliband’s ratings remain far worse – only 20% think he is doing a “good job”, as against 55% who say the opposite. That gives a net score of –35, considerably worse than his always-negative average over the last few years. But he may take some solace from the fact that his numbers are no longer getting worse – in June, ICM had registered a net negative for him of –39.
There is no such compensation for Clegg who, as he prepared to address the Liberal Democrat conference, hit a net negative rating of –42. That is his worst score on record, and the 17% of voters who judge him to be doing “a good job” is down by eight points, from 25%, over the few months from June. It makes for a strong contrast with the coalition honeymoon, in August 2010, when 50% of respondents believed that the deputy prime minister was doing a good job, and his net score stood at +19.
The popularity of the government as a whole has sunk in parallel, if less dramatically. Whereas in summer 2010, the country rated the coalition as doing a good job, with net positive approval of +23 in June of that year, today its score stands at –16, with a third of voters (33%) seeing it as doing well, and virtually half (49%) rating it as performing badly. The latest score represents slippage from immediately before the summer recess, when ICM recorded a net negative for the coalition of –10.
If all the established Westminster leaders emerge as distinctly unloved, the most prominent political insurgent is not exactly mopping up all the lost affection. Just over a third (36%) say Nigel Farage is doing a good job, as against 37% who think he is performing badly. That produces a net –1 for the Ukip leader in the week of the Clacton-on-Sea byelection. It is a modest improvement over some of his most recent scores, but remains a considerable setback from May 2013, when he briefly enjoyed net approval of +17.
While none of the politicians ICM asked about emerged with approval ratings in positive territory, the Conservative’s relative strength on the economy is reaffirmed by the fact that Osborne emerges as the least unpopular. Of those polled, 38% rate the chancellor as doing a good job, tied with 38% who believe him to be doing a bad one, giving him a net approval score of zero.
While this puts Osborne in a better position than the rest of the political pack, it nonetheless represents a step back from the net scores of +5 and +6 which ICM recorded for the chancellor in, respectively, May and June of this year.
• ICM Research interviewed an online sample of 1,867 adults aged 18+ on 3-5 October 2014. The data has been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
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