With the election less than three weeks away, Ipsos's April Issues Index shows that the economy remains the most important issue facing the country today, as has been the case since September 2008. As was the case in March, more than half of the public (55%) place it among the most important issues facing Britain, as the party leaders place their plans for economic recovery and public spending at the heart of their election campaigns. Since January 2009, the economy had been declining in importance, but, in the last two months, this decline has reversed.
In anticipation of the second leaders debate around foreign affairs, just one in ten (11%) see Defence/Foreign affairs/Terrorism as amongst the most important issues facing the country. This issue was in the ascendancy in November 2009, when a quarter (25%) saw it as important, but now seems to be falling back to a level of importance last seen in June of last year. Only 3% place Europe amongst the most important issues facing the country going into the general election; Europe has only once reached a level of concern in double figures during this parliament.
The second most important issue, despite a four percentage point decrease since March, is race relations/immigration, mentioned by three in ten (29%). Crime/Law and order, is third, mentioned by a quarter (25%) of the public, as it was in March. These two issues dominated the issues index prior to the recession, and are clearly still of importance to the public.
Approaching a quarter (24%) see Unemployment and NHS/Healthcare as among the most important issues facing the country, in both cases increases from last month, by three and four percentage points respectively. For a fifth (21%), Education is among the most important issues, and this issue, along with the NHS, has also reversed a decline in importance, perhaps because both issues are brought into sharper focus by the election campaign.
Of course, it is not just the prioritisation of these issues which is of interest, but the effect they may have on voting intention as a result. From our Best Party on Key Issues research, we can see that there is still no consensus about which of the two main parties is better at managing the economy (the Conservative Party is ahead, but only by three points). However, for the next two top issues facing the country, immigration and crime, the Conservatives have a clear lead over Labour (11 and 10 points respectively). In turn, the Labour party leads on the next two issues most likely to be cited by the public, unemployment (six point lead) and healthcare (nine point lead).
Technical note Ipsos's Issues Index is conducted monthly and provides an overview of the key issues concerning the country. Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of 977 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. The questions are spontaneous - i.e. respondents are not prompted with any answers. Ipsos's Capibus vehicle was used for this survey. Interviews are conducted in-home at 181 sampling points across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted face-to-face between 9th-15th April 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.