Labour held a strong poll lead over the Conservatives throughout May, as public confidence in the economy dipped sharply as the UK fell into recession this month.

In TNS-BMRB’s regular poll of voting intentions (conducted in early May and shown in the graph below), Labour recorded a lead of 13 points, their largest lead since losing the last general election.

In an additional poll conducted this week that lead is holding steady with Labour on 42% and Conservatives on 30%, suggesting it may be something more substantial than a temporary boost following their success in the local election. Further polls will confirm if, and for how long, such a lead can be sustained.

The polling data coincided with new evidence on the public sentiment. The Kantar Public Public Opinion Monitor for May found that half of the British public believe that the economy is in a worse state than a year ago.

This reverses a gradual improvement in sentiment since December, when 58% took a gloomier view of the economy.

Opinion was strongly divided between Conservative and Labour voters. Most Conservatives (58%) thought the economy was about the same as last year, with only 30% saying it was worse, while 61% of Labour voters said it was worse, with only 36% saying it was much the same. Sentiment among Liberal Democrat voters was almost identical to that of Conservative voters.

There was a similar split on economic prospects with Conservative voters relatively optimistic: only 14% thought the economy would be worse in a year’s time, against 41% of Labour voters and 30% of the population as a whole.

The base size for Liberal Democrat supporters is too low to draw firm conclusions, but it appears a sizeable majority (70%) expect the economy to remain in much the same condition in 12 months’ time.

The Kantar Public Policy Priority Index shows a divergence of political views on what issues the government should be doing most to tackle. For the population as a whole, and for Labour voters, unemployment overtook inflation as the top concern in the autumn and has remained so ever since. In May, inflation overtook unemployment as Conservative voters’ top concern.

The Public Opinion Monitor continues to show a high level of unease among households over their income prospects, and about job security among those who are employed. In May, 10% of workers said they expected a pay cut, only 21% were looking forward to a rise over the next 12 months, while 33% said their job felt less secure than a year ago.

These figures reflect a gloomy mood in an economy that is now officially in recession, though they show surprisingly little variation depending on their party affiliation. Labour supporters did emerge as more concerned about their job security, with 43% saying they feel less secure than they did 12 months ago, compared to 34% of Conservatives.

This is likely to reflect the higher proportion of Labour supporters working in the public sector as it braces for substantial spending cuts.

Budgets remain tight across the board with half (48%) of those questioned saying they are finding it harder than a year ago to meet their monthly household budget.

Conservative supporters seem marginally more positive on this measure than supporters of the other main parties with 40% saying they were finding it harder to manage their finances, though only 8% said it was actually easier. This compares with half of Labour supporters (50%) who are struggling with their budgets, and 44% of Liberal Democrats.

Overall, those who are struggling most tend to be more indebted households. Half (48%) of those who are finding it harder to meet their budget say that, if they received an income increase, they would use it to pay down their debts, rather than saving or using the money to increase their household spending. Of those who are not struggling with their budgets, only a quarter (27%) felt they would need to use an income increase to reduce their debt burden.

Furthermore, only 12% of those who are struggling to make ends meet expect their income to rise over the next year, with 23% anticipating a reduction and the remainder expecting it to stay the same. This suggests that for a sizeable portion of the population the twin pressures of debt and stagnating incomes will continue to restrict budgets and consumer spending for the foreseeable future.

Notes to editors

Kantar Public interviewed a representative sample of 1,207 people between 19th and 21st May, 2012.
All interviews were conducted as online self-completion. The data is weighted to match population totals for age, sex, social grade, working status, presence of children, 2010 voting patterns and region.

The Kantar Public Public Opinion Monitor tracks public attitudes towards the British economy as well as people’s perceptions of their personal financial position.

The Kantar Public Policy Priority Index (PPI) asks people to rank eight policy areas in terms of their relative importance in British public life.
Further information is available upon request. The tables are available below this press release and in the Reports & Publications section.

About Kantar Public

Kantar Public is a leading provider of specialist social research, offering insight into public policy to government and not-for-profit clients. Delivering a range of approaches including bespoke proprietary research and consultancy, random probability survey capabilities, as well as social marketing and polling, our work informs policy makers across national and local Government at the highest level. Kantar Public forms part of the Kantar group of companies. For more information please visit us on our website

About Kantar

Kantar is one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. By uniting the diverse talents of its 13 specialist companies, the group aims to become the pre-eminent provider of compelling and inspirational insights for the global business community. Its 28,500 employees work across 100 countries and across the whole spectrum of research and consultancy disciplines, enabling the group to offer clients business insights at each and every point of the consumer cycle. The group’s services are employed by over half of the Fortune Top 500 companies.

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For more information on the Public Opinion Monitor or to speak with head of polling (and CEO, Kantar Public) Michelle Harrison please contact:

*Suzannah Archibald
Senior Marketing Executive, TNS
D: 020 7656 5048
M: 078 5276 7877*