John Curtice: Voters will change their minds if services deteriorate

Although there may still be room for improvement, voters are much more likely to reckon secondary schools are doing a good job than they were 20 years ago

Many an MP on the government benches will doubtless read the latest results of the British Social Attitudes survey with some pleasure. Voters seem to have lost their enthusiasm for public spending. Despite the onset of recession, spending money on welfare is much less popular now than it was 20 years ago. The Government's programme of cuts is in tune with the public mood.

The implications for the next election, due before 2015, would seem obvious. If the Government's economic medicine works, voters will be keen to back the coalition partners for having made Britain more like the country they wanted.

However, government MPs should be wary of jumping too rapidly to that conclusion. Voters have not lost their enthusiasm for public spending because they think the money Labour spent on services was wasted. Rather, they feel health and education no longer need more money because many of their problems have been fixed.

Levels of satisfaction with the NHS are higher now than they have been at any time since the Social Attitudes survey began in 1983. And although there may still be room for improvement, voters are much more likely to reckon secondary schools are doing a good job than they were 20 years ago.

But if by 2015 Britain's hospitals and schools are thought to have deteriorated, voters are unlikely to accept it as the price that had to be paid for a policy shift they had endorsed. Rather they would ask what had gone wrong.

John Curtice is a research consultant, National Centre for Social Research

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