Concern about education increases in the wake of the student protests, though the economy and unemployment remain the two most important issues.
The Economist/Ipsos MORI December Issues Index shows that the economy remains the most important issue facing the country, and, indeed has increased in importance by six percentage points since November. Three fifths (61%) of the public see this issue as amongst the most important facing the country, and, for two fifths (41%), it is the single most important issue.
Just over a quarter (27%) are concerned with unemployment, with concern felt keenest amongst those in lower social grades (34% of those in social grade DE are concerned compared with 22% of ABs).
This month, we were also able to explore some of the issues in more detail in discussion groups. In general, participants in our groups were pessimistic about the country's economic prospects. In turn, this created fear about their own future, though much of it was a fear of the unknown, causing them to keep an eye on their spending.
"I work at home and I'm scared to put the heating on because I don't know how much it's going to be"
There was confusion about the size of the deficit, and this lack of understanding served to fuel concern; few were sure how deep it was, and many felt that the spending cuts would make very little difference to the deficit.
Therefore, cuts to benefits and an increase on VAT were unpopular, as it was felt that it disadvantaged many for little return. The Irish bailout was also unpopular, and few felt that they understood why the UK needed to make a financial intervention.
"We are giving out too much money to the wrong people, the EU etc, we need to not bail out every Tom, Dick or Harry"
"A bank can be bailed out to the tune of billions and post profits of billions? ...The rich are getting richer."
This month, a quarter (25%) are concerned about race relations/immigration, though concern about this issue has fallen since immediately after the election in May, when it stood at 38%. This is the lowest level of concern since October 2009.
However, concern about education has increased by six percentage points since last month; 21% mention this issue. However, there are no clear differences by age, rather, social grade seems to be the driver of concern, with 27% of ABC1s mentioning this issue compared with 15% of C2DEs.
Conversely, concern about crime/law and order has decreased by five percentage points, and is now at its lowest level since March 2003.
Both our survey and discussion groups were conducted in the week of the parliamentary vote on tuition fees and the student protests. The survey data seems to suggest that there is support for the students, and indeed this is borne out by participants in our groups, who felt that protesting was the only way to effect real change. Comparisons were made to the riots of the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and some felt both that there was a cyclical nature to the economy, and that protests are an inevitable consequence of the recessions. For some, albeit a minority, the violence was necessary.
"I think it's acceptable to break the law to get their point across, otherwise we would never have had the suffragettes"
Though most distinguished the violent from the non-violent protests, there was still a sense that the protests were, in a wider context, the result of a frustrated electorate who did not feel that they were being listened to by the government. Furthermore, there was a feeling amongst many that this is the start of a new era of public protest, rather than the end of one.
"The government is not listening any other way so they are being forced to listen".
Technical note Ipsos MORI's Issues Index is conducted monthly and provides an overview of the key issues concerning the country. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 976 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. The questions are spontaneous - i.e. respondents are not prompted with any answers. Ipsos MORI's Capibus vehicle was used for this survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in-home between 4th-10th December 2010 at 154 sampling points across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. Two discussion groups were held in London on Thursday 9th September with a representative cross section of the public as part of Ipsos MORI's qualitative omnibus.