Is George Osborne getting his message across?

Considering all of the coverage over the last few years of George Osborne trying to sort out the mess Labour has left behind, you would have thought by now that most of the British public would be aware as to the current situation. Hour after hour of media coverage has come and gone, with reports about the public sector cuts that are sweeping the country. However, a recent poll has suggested that is far from the truth, with a worrying large proportion of people unaware of the government fiscal situation. 

With deep public sector cuts and budget after budget full of special measures, I think most people are aware that the country is currently tightening its belt. Despite this, a recent poll carried out by ITV-ComRes has suggested that only 6% of people understand that the government’s total debt is set to rise this year. In fact, not only is it set to rise, but with a budget deficit of £121 billion, it is set to rise by quite a considerable amount, before you even consider other factors such as the transfer of assets from Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley to government balance sheets. Instead, 49% of people think that government debt will fall by £600 billion in the period 2010 to 2015. While you can’t count on the public to be completely aware of the situation, I would certainly expect more than 6% to understand what is going on.

After all, it doesn’t take an economics or maths degree to see that government debt is rising. It’s also certain that part, or even all of this 6% of people read the Financial Times or other newspapers, therefore you would expect them to know what is going on. Yet with all of the coverage in the TV News, that’s no excuse, and I would have thought that everybody would be aware. Democracy is great, and all things considered, there is no better system, yet when results like this come out, you really have to sit back and consider how it’s possible how people so unaware can be voting in elections. The media could be partly to blame, with the BBC likely reporting that the government is “cutting the deficit”, despite not notifying the viewer that this still means that debt is rising.  With this in mind, many people could end up ill informed, but I still don’t think that this makes up for such a low figure, especially once you understand that this 6% is lower than polls in the past.

Even so, these results do lead to a few questions, which if left unanswered could seriously harm the government’s chances are succeeding with its plans, especially if they intend to win a majority at the next election.

The country is going through deep cuts and as “we’re all in it together”, it’s important that everybody knows what is going on. Previous polls have indicated that most of the public sees cutting the debt a necessity, but if they aren’t aware of what’s going on, it could play into Labour’s hands. If the public thinks that the goal has already been achieved, then they might think that extra cuts aren’t necessary, instead preferring that the government turns its focus back to growth. On the other hand, if many believe that the debt is being cut and the cuts are too harsh, they will then think that there is room for change, when in actual fact there isn’t. No doubt George Osborne will want to wait for some more polls first to confirm these results and it’s unlikely that they will change any of his plans, but either way, they are some interesting statistics.

Overall, the poll results are pretty surprising. After a few years of dire economic conditions and hours of media coverage you would have thought that most people would at least understand the basics of what is going on. However, these results show that not only does the public not just understand, but they are completely wrong. In the long term this could be really damaging for George Osborne and the Conservatives, so it’s important that they stay on track with the fiscal plan while at the same time ensuring that they educate the public.