Election '97 : Voters in dark over key policies

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Only half of voters recognise even the most high-profile policies put forward by the three main parties, according to today's Independent/Harris poll.

We took the most reported policy from each party's manifesto and asked voters if they could say which party had proposed them. The plan for a windfall tax to pay for a jobs programme scored best, with 57 per cent correctly recognising it as a Labour policy.

But Labour was also identified by significant minorities as the author of two other policies. One voter in five thought a penny on income tax for education was a Labour pledge and the same number thought tax breaks for spouses staying at home was in Labour's manifesto.

The Liberal Democrats' education policy achieved highest recognition among a party's own supporters (68 per cent).Among Labour voters, recognition of the windfall tax was no higher than among all voters (57 per cent).

The poll was carried out over last weekend, before John Major's appeal to his party to toe the line on Europe. It confirms the Euro-sceptical tinge to public opinion as the backdrop to this week's turmoil in the Conservative campaign. By a narrow margin, voters are sceptical on the "core" European issue of whether closer ties to Europe would mean more or fewer jobs. Twenty-six per cent think closer ties will result in job losses, against 22 per cent who expect more jobs. Thirty-six per cent think closer ties will make no difference.

The poll confirms the view expressed yesterday by Peter Mandelson, Labour's campaign chief, that the electorate has largely made up its mind.

Although only 66 per cent had "definitely decided" to vote for their party, the waverers, the 26 per cent who said "I may change my mind", hold out little comfort for the Tories.

When the waverers were asked which party they might switch to, Labour and the Liberal Democrats (19 per cent each) led the Tories (15 per cent) as second choice, although one-third said they did not know.

Sir James Goldsmith's Euro-sceptic Referendum Party could pick up another 6 per cent of the waverers, overwhelmingly from the Tories.

In another attempt to subject the Labour lead to the most cautious assumptions, Harris changed its interviewing method this week. Its interviewers used a showcard listing the three main parties (four in Scotland and Wales) when asking how people intend to vote.

ICM, which also reminds voters of the Liberal Democrats, has been reporting consistently higher Liberal Democrat ratings and lower Labour ratings.

But the new method seems to have had little effect on Harris's findings, though we cannot know whether Labour's three-point drop and the Liberal Democrat one-point rise this week is genuine, due to sampling variability or is the result of the new question format.

Whose policy?

''Impose a windfall tax on privatised companies and use the money to cut youth unemployment"

Lab (correct) 57%

Con 8%

Lib Dem 2%

Don't know 33%

"Put up income tax by a penny in the pound for education"

Lib Dem (correct) 50%

Lab 19%

Con 5%

Don't know 24%

"Give tax relief to married couples when one of them stays at home to look after the children"

Con (correct) 44%

Lab 21%

Lib Dem 2%

Don't know 34%