Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trust in government

It wasn't 2010 which was the outlier in election data points, it was 1997. As Yvette Cooper pointed out in a prophetic article shortly before the Labour landslide:

Cast a glance back through history and there is an identifiable parallel between economic confidence and support for the government of the day. Splash across the Atlantic to the US and the link is even clearer. So when the odd unusual election violates the trend, it is worth looking further for explanation.

In Britain and the US, only two elections seem to violate the thesis that economic confidence and political support go hand-in-hand: the 1997 election in Britain, and the 1992 election in the US.


What went wrong for George Bush in 1992 might provide a clue to the Government's persistent unpopularity here in the UK in 1997. [...] the longer the party was in power, the harder it became to win again. It doesn't take a leap of imagination to reach the same conclusion here: 18 years of the same faces is simply too long for many voters to stomach.

But there is another important factor [even] taking into account the period in office, the 1992 US election doesn't quite fit the historical trend. So what else was different about 1992? One thing emerges above all others: trust. Read my lips, said Mr Bush, no new taxes. But that isn't what he delivered after getting elected in 1988. By telling porkies, or at least by breaking promises, George Bush violated the trust of the electorate. No wonder they wouldn't reward him for the state of the economy if they didn't feel they could trust the economic statements he made.

Her article concluded:

The facts of the economy matter less when you don't trust the statements about them made by the Government. The strong statements made in 1992 first about not raising tax, and then about supporting the pound in the ERM, all crumbled spectacularly. Likewise the persistent weaknesses in the economy during the recession made a mockery of all those wild claims about economic miracles during the Eighties. Hardly surprising then that the link between government support and economic feel-good has not been patched together.

If the polls are proved right in six weeks' time, and if the explanation suggested by the US evidence is accurate, the lesson for politicians is straightforward. Voters are not mugs. They may not like it when the economy doesn't match up to their hopes. But they hate being lied to even more. Governments who want to be re-elected can't just hope for economic good news, they have to earn voters' trust on economic policy as well.

So just as Conservative fortunes reverted to the norm in May this year, Liberal Democrats' share of the credit for the improvements in people's living standards and job prospects was nullified by the voters' loss of trust. On top of the other factors mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, that was the killer blow.

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