Monday 18 December 2017

The electorate has spoken – and most feel a €2bn Budget adjustment is an austerity step too far

Paul Moran

Our latest Millward Brown poll paints a picture of an electorate that is quite clear on its expectations for the 2015 Budget. Conducted last Tuesday and Wednesday, it coincided with the announcement of better-than-expected tax returns for the first five months of the year.

Over half (56pc) feel that the proposed €2bn adjustment previously mooted by the Government is unnecessary. Just three in 10 (28pc) feel we should power ahead with the full correction.

Those most hawkish are Fine Gael supporters, residents of Dublin and those from the higher socio-economic groupings (ABs). Unsurprisingly, those most likely to feel that €2bn is a step too far are more likely to be Sinn Fein, Independent or Labour supporters.

Of course, both Joan Burton and Alex White will view these results with keen interest. The central theme of both their leadership campaigns is an end to the austerity measures. Every bit of economic leeway that they can squeeze from exchequer returns will make their job that little bit easier.

As is it, they are walking a very fine line in terms of promising change within the constraints of an economic straightjacket.

Let's look at where the savings should come from, regardless of the final amount. Some 37pc feel that reduction in spending is the most appropriate course of action. The thing is, all low-hanging fruit has long since been picked. Any reductions in spending will hurt some-body. Just one in 10 feel that increased taxation is the way forward, with one-third (32pc) endorsing a combination of taxes and spending cuts.

Interestingly, it is the two Civil War parties that are most in favour of spending cuts (46pc and 42pc of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail supporters respectively).

So where shall these spending cuts come from? One outflow of spending that is seen as a soft touch for many is child benefit. Nearly two in three (64pc) feel this benefit should be means-tested, versus just 28pc wanting to keep the status quo. This, of course, would be politically damaging for the Labour Party in particular to enact (even though their own supporters are most likely to endorse this course of action).

Apart from the logistics of means-testing, there are regional variations in terms of the cost of living, and childcare in particular. Means-testing of child benefit could become a de facto tax on urban areas, and in particular Dublin – similar to the property tax.

Fine Gael and Labour will be hoping the improvement in finances will ensure these difficult decisions are made for them. Otherwise, their drubbing in the local elections will be a portent of what is still to come.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown.

Irish Independent

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