Polling: How do Labour voters want Keir Starmer to respond to the Budget?

Exclusive polling for the New Statesman finds the majority of Labour voters support a rise in corporation tax.

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The majority of people who voted Labour in the 2019 general election support a rise in corporation tax, according to exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton*.

As has been briefed ahead of the Budget on 3 March, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to increase corporation tax rates. The Labour leader Keir Starmer is being criticised by figures on the party’s left for opposing the idea.

In the first polling of Labour voters about their views on the issue, 58 per cent said they support a rise in corporation tax to help pay for pandemic and recovery spending, and 16 per cent oppose it (22 per cent neither support nor oppose, and 3 per cent don’t know).

However, fewer Labour voters would favour tax rises (in general, not just corporation tax) than spending cuts if the Chancellor were to try and “balance” the public finances. Nearly half of respondents would favour spending cuts, at 49 per cent, compared with 37 per cent who would rather he rely more on tax rises (14 per cent didn’t know).

A sizeable 58 per cent responded that they do not think the current level of spending is sustainable.

That puts Labour in a difficult position when deciding how to respond to the Budget. The party's current opposition to tax rises matches up with its voters’ responses in general, but does not reflect their views on corporation tax or concerns about levels of spending. Such attitudes among Labour voters could also jar with future proposals to raise certain taxes and increase spending.

Yet the results are not all bad news for Labour.

A majority of Labour voters favour extending economic support in this Budget over focusing on balancing spending right now, with 52 per cent for more support and 29 per cent for the latter (19 per cent don’t know).

This fits with Labour’s calls for extending the furlough scheme beyond the end of April, expanding support for self-employed workers, and extending business rates relief and other measures to help businesses through the crisis.

A majority of Labour voters (71 per cent) agree that Labour “has the ideas and policies the country needs”, compared with just 6 per cent who disagree (20 per cent neither agree nor disagree, and 3 per cent don’t know).

A majority at 55 per cent are also aware of the Labour Party’s key economic policies, compared with just 14 per cent who are not (27 per cent are neither aware nor unaware, and 4 per cent don’t know).

[See also: Labour’s 2019 voters aren’t so different from the rest of the country. That’s good and bad news]

It is notable that, when provided with a list of policy areas to prioritise, the economy came third for Labour voters. Healthcare was (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the pandemic) top of the list at 28 per cent, education was second at 16 per cent, the economy was third at 15 per cent. Coronavirus restrictions were fourth at 9 per cent, and Brexit and the environment were joint fifth, with 5 per cent of respondents each.

The “Rishi effect” could also dog the Labour Party this Budget week. A far greater proportion of Labour voters, at 47 per cent, agree the Chancellor has made sound financial decisions since the onset of the pandemic than the proportion who disagree, at 19 per cent (31 per cent neither agree not disagree and 4 per cent don’t know).

More Labour voters approve of his performance as Chancellor than disapprove, at 34 per cent against 27 per cent (34 per cent neither approve nor disapprove and 4 per cent don’t know) – far more sympathetic than the 49 per cent who disapprove of Boris Johnson’s performance as Prime Minister (27 per cent approve, 22 per cent neither approve nor disapprove, and 1 per cent don’t know).

In fact, Sunak’s approval ratings among Labour voters are also higher than those of the shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, with just 28 per cent of respondents approving of her performance in the job (16 per cent disapprove, 44 per cent say neither, and 12 per cent don’t know). When asked who would make a better chancellor, 34 per cent said Sunak, 28 per cent said Dodds and 38 per cent didn’t know.

 It is, of course, worth remembering Sunak benefits from being in the role (so it’s easier to imagine him doing the job) and from the name recognition he earned through announcing financial help in numerous high-profile No 10 coronavirus press briefings.

*Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled 1,499 people who voted Labour in 2019, on 23-24 February 2021.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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