Voters are more content than during the later stages of the last Labour governmentby Peter Kellner / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
In the depths of America’s Great Depression in the 1930s, two songs captured the tussle between rival sentiments—Yip Harburg’s pessimistic refrain, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” and the upbeat anthem adopted by Franklin D Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Since George Osborne became Britain’s Chancellor almost six years ago, his tone has been that of Harburg. YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect, ahead of this spring’s Budget, suggests the time has come for Osborne to sound more like FDR. Despite the long years of austerity, and the repeated incantation of the need to make tough choices, voters are actually upbeat. The near-despair of seven years ago, when the economy was at its weakest, has given way to a palpable optimism.
We started by repeating four questions about the underlying public mood that we first asked in 2009 and asked again in 2014. In every case, British people have become more cheerful. Seven years ago, just 41 per cent were confident that “my family will have the opportunities to prosper in the years ahead,” while 52 per cent lacked such confidence—a net score of minus 11. In 2014, we were still in negative territory, with a net score of minus six. Now optimists (53 per cent) outnumber pessimists (36 per cent), making the net score plus 17. There have been similar shifts on “having enough money to live on comfortably,” from minus six in 2009 to plus 20 today, and “feeling safe going out in your area,” from plus 40 to plus 63.