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We are winning the arguments

Polls show that straight after the election the government was winning the arguments. But public opinion has now moved decisively.

Since the election, polling company YouGov has been regularly asking the same questions about the cuts. While they are not quite the questions that we would ask, they are still useful. Asking the same question allows us to see how public opinion moves over time.

The government started off wanting voters to think that the cuts are:

Straight after the election they were winning these arguments. But public opinion has now moved decisively.

Cuts are unfair

This chart shows how many people think the cuts are unfair. Immediately after the election only one in three said they were unfair. Now that has gone to almost two in three. That is a big shift.

Poll: Do you think the cuts are unfair?

Frontline services

YouGov ask whether you are likely to "suffer directly from cuts in spending on public services such as health, education and welfare". This seems a pretty fair definition of frontline services.

As this chart of those saying yes to this question shows, ministers have never won this argument. From the word go around 70 per cent have expected to suffer from the cuts. It's increased a little perhaps, but it has been remarkably consistent.

Poll: Are you likely to suffer directly from cuts?

Bad for the economy

The government message is that cutting public spending gives room to the private sector to drive an export-led recovery.

This chart reports those who say that the cuts are bad for the economy. It was about one in three before the election, but is now over half. It's not quite as dramatic as the shift in fairness, but is still a big shift.

Poll: Are the cuts good for the economy?

Too deep and too fast

YouGov have not asked questions about whether people think the cuts are inevitable on a consistent basis, but have now started to ask the questions I would have put from the word go.

We can't put them on a chart therefore, but here are the results from their poll of 20/21 February 2011.

A majority think cuts are necessary.

Necessary Unnecessary
55% 33%

But before ministers get too pleased, there is little support for their speed and scale (and we already know people think they are unfair).

Too deep Too shallow About right
50% 6% 27%
Too quickly Too slowly About right
58% 5% 26%

As people start to see the effects of cuts on their local services as council budgets are agreed, it is hard to see these figures moving back to the government.

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