Labour is winning the battle for the support of voters in the "squeezed middle", according to the latest ComRes survey for The Independent.
As Ed Miliband identified an estimated 11 million people on low and middle incomes as the key political battleground for the next few years, the poll showed that Labour is ahead of the Conservatives among the three demographic groups covering these voters. But Mr Miliband has failed to make a breakthrough among the AB top social group or in the South-east, where the Tories retain a healthy lead.
Overall, the survey gives Labour a four-point lead, down from the six-point advantage it enjoyed in the most recent ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday two weeks ago. Labour is on 39 per cent (down three points), the Tories on 35 per cent (down one point), the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent (up one point) and other parties on 14 per cent (up three points). At a general election fought under the current first-past-the-post system, these figures would give Labour an overall majority of 44.
Labour is ahead of the Tories among the bottom DE social group (by 45 to 30 per cent), the C2 skilled manual workers (by 44 to 33 per cent) and the C1 lower-middle class (by 38 to 33 per cent). But the Tories lead (by 41 to 33 per cent) among the top AB group.
Although Labour is ahead in every other region, it trails the Tories by 46 per cent to 29 per cent in the South-east, which includes London. There is also a divide between the young and the old. Labour is ahead among voters between the ages of 18 and 54. It is neck and neck with the Tories among 55 to 64-year-olds, but David Cameron's party has a big lead (50 to 30 per cent) among those aged 65 and over.
Although last year's slump in Liberal Democrat support appears to have bottomed out, only half of those who voted for Nick Clegg's party at last year's election say they would do so now and 29 per cent say they would back Labour. Yesterday Mr Miliband argued that the Coalition's policies would inflict a further squeeze on lower and middle-income earners but admitted the previous Labour Government had also neglected them by focusing on the gap between rich and poor.
Mr Miliband spoke at the launch of a major 18-month study of the problems facing households with incomes between £12,000 and £48,000 a year by the Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank.
Mr Miliband argued that over the past 20 to 30 years, the once-safe assumption that middle-income groups would share in rising prosperity had broken down. He warned that the Coalition's "reckless" deficit-reduction strategy would now "crash into" this trend, through high inflation which outstripped pay rises, higher taxes and cuts such as withdrawing child benefits from top-rate taxpayers. He said families with an annual income of £44,000 could no longer consider themselves rich.
ComRes interviewed 1,007 adults by telephone between 25 and 27 February. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all adults. Data were also weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.