THE BLOG
26/04/2012 05:34 BST | Updated 25/06/2012 06:12 BST

Cameron and Osborne's Double Dip in the Polls

After months of pretty boring stability in political polling, a number of recent surveys suggest we're finally seeing signs of change.

After months of pretty boring stability in political polling, a number of recent surveys suggest we're finally seeing signs of change.

The most striking shift is the decline in personal ratings of David Cameron: the Ipsos MORI/Evening Standard survey released on Tuesday has the PM on his lowest rating since becoming Conservative leader. At the end of 2011, he looked like he was on an upward track, but his rating has continued to slip since February - and people are now less satisfied with him than they are with Ed Miliband.

And the PM is not alone with his troubles. George Osborne also received his most negative ratings as Chancellor this month - worse than Alistair Darling at his lowest point, in fact the worst of any Chancellor since Ken Clarke in 1994.

One of the clear drivers of these steep declines is the reaction to the Budget, where we've seen a remarkable turnaround in public opinion, compared with the 2010 Budget. Following the general election, few people thought that the Budget would be good for them personally - but the majority at least thought it would be good for the country. But the proportion thinking that the 2012 Budget will be bad for the country is 53%, double the 27% we saw in 2010.

This is a big shift, but in many ways a predictable one: the theory of austerity is much easier to support than the reality of spending cuts and increased taxes. But there is no doubt that relatively small but high profile Budget measures also had an impact - not least the "granny tax". This can be clearly seen in the turnaround of older people's views of the PM, Chancellor and Budget. For example, there's been a sea-change in older peoples' views of George Osborne: until this month, they were his greatest supporters from all age groups, now they're the most negative about him.

The other big shift among particular groups is Conservative supporters' lower ratings of the government and their leader - which will be partly explained by the changing views of older people. Up until now it's been a stable story of Conservative voters being firm fans of the PM and government. But we've seen a big increase in dissatisfaction with the government's performance among Conservative supporters, from 27% to 43% dissatisfied in the space of a month. Similarly, David Cameron had been getting a hugely impressive 80% or more of party supporters saying they are satisfied with him - but this is now a much a more mundane 68%.

But as significant as these shifts have been, what's stayed the same may prove to be just as important in the longer term. In particular, overall ratings of Ed Miliband have not improved at all in our poll, despite the gifts he's been handed by the government and events. He has overtaken the PM not through increased happiness with his performance, just the continued slide in David Cameron's ratings.

The government have scored some own goals, and are seeing increased questioning of their economic approach, not helped by the news that we're officially in the first double-dip recession since the 1970s. These tarnish the Conservative's two greatest assets in public opinion - a reputation for economic competence and David Cameron's leadership. And the risks are real, even at this early stage of a fixed term parliament. For example, we did some Peter Snow-like "just a bit of fun" analysis that shows at this point in the electoral cycle, the image of the leader is a stronger predictor of the eventual election outcome than surveys of voting intention.

But the PM and the Chancellor will not have expected to be popular at this stage of an austerity parliament - they may, however, have expected the leader of the opposition to be benefiting more. To understand what's really changing, there are two figures we should be closely watching: ratings of Ed Miliband and views of who is the most trusted on the economy. We'll come back to both in our next poll.