A significant majority of Britons would like a return to one-party government after five years of coalition, according to the annual British Social Attitudes survey.
The findings come weeks before the general election on 7 May which, opinion polls indicate, is most likely to produce another coalition.
Just 29% of people want to be ruled by a coalition, among the lowest levels for 30 years, according to the report, in contrast to 62% who want a single party to govern.
This pre-election edition of the study, which was conducted in mid- to late 2014, also reveals a nation unconvinced by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition but nonetheless shaped by it, with increasing Euroscepticism and tougher attitudes towards social security benefits and the unemployed.
However, it also indicates a population increasingly disenchanted with politicians in general. Just 17% said they trust the government, less than half the figure the survey found in 1986. The proportion of people who see it as their duty to vote has also fallen, from 76% to 58% over a similar period.
For David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the gloomier news in the study, which has been conducted annually since 1983, is that their carefully balanced relationship has done nothing to boost support for coalition government.
In 2010 almost 40% of those surveyed backed the idea of coalition government in theory, but within a year this had dropped to 28%, and the percentage has barely risen since. Much of this appears to be down to disenchanted Conservative supporters: between 2010 and 2014, their backing for coalition government fell from 41% to 25%; among people who said they supported the Lib Dems, the drop was smaller, from 59% to 50%.
The report notes: “Apparently, any hopes that the Liberal Democrats might have had that voters would come to accept coalitions once they saw one in action have been dashed by the experience of the last five years.”
However, the coalition’s repeated “strivers versus shirkers” narrative appears to have had a lasting impact on British views. The study finds that while opinions on public spending tend to have a “thermostat effect” – when it’s low, people tend to support an increase, and vice versa – this is no longer true of welfare.
Support for more spending on welfare has dropped from 36% in 2013 to 30%. In 1989, the figure was 61%. There is also strong support for a benefit cap: 73% agreed with the statement that “no household should receive more in benefits than the national average income”. And 60% support the payment of social security in non-monetary form, for example as food stamps. Similarly, there was majority backing for a different benefit regime for the under-25s.
Perhaps more counterintuitively, satisfaction for the sometimes beleaguered NHS rose by five percentage points to 65% from last year, the second highest overall figure for satisfaction with the NHS in the history of the study. The approval is not universal, however – satisfaction with GP services dropped from 77% to 71%, the lowest ever.
More general views about the NHS, in contrast, remain firmly of the cake-and-eat-it variety. Although almost three-quarters of those asked believe the NHS faces a major funding crisis, little more than a third back higher taxes for improved public services, and only about 10% back any form of upfront payment for services.
On another major political faultline, the EU, public views are similarly mixed. The proportion of people who believe Britain should leave has dropped in the past two years, from 30% to 24%, notably below the 45% seen in 1984. However, if you add in those who want the EU’s powers reduced, this takes the 2014 sceptics’ total to 62%.
As for university tuition fees, while the Lib Dems have felt the heat over their change of mind on the issue, it might be a comfort for them to know that the public mood is partly with them. In 1995, when the issue was first raised, just a quarter felt “students should be expected to take out loans to cover their living costs”. Now, 78% believe students should pay at least some contribution to their fees. Curiously, although the Scottish government has reintroduced free tuition, the study found just 26% of those in Scotland back this.
Views on Ukip
The latest British Social Attitudes report gives an occasionally contradictory view of Ukip supporters. The party’s backers are, as previously documented, disproportionately older and less qualified. Ukip support is twice as high among the over-55s as among the under-35s, and support is three times higher among people whose highest education level is an O-level or equivalent than among graduates.
Similarly, it is no surprise to find conservative attitudes among Ukip supporters, with 75% backing the death penalty. Even more, 87%, believe “young people today don’t have enough respect for traditional British values”.
However, in other ways, those who back Ukip have more in common with Labour voters than with those who opt for the Conservatives. Asked if there is “one law for the rich and one for the poor”, 76% of Ukip supporters agree – more even than the 71% of Labour voters. Among Conservatives, 39% agreed. There is a similar Ukip-Labour correlation for views about ordinary people not getting their fair share of wealth, and of management and big business generally operating against the interest of their staff.
But when it comes to the government actually redistributing wealth, Ukip supporters, who are disproportionately distrustful of MPs and ministers, are suddenly less keen than Labour voters.
This article was written by Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th March 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010