Majority of voters back public spending increase over tax cuts

Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll: biggest preference is for more spending on healthcare

Offered a menu of choices between tax reductions and spending increases and asked to pick one priority, voters overwhelmingly prefer spending increases, with by far the biggest preference being for increasing spending on healthcare. File photograph: Getty Images

Offered a menu of choices between tax reductions and spending increases and asked to pick one priority, voters overwhelmingly prefer spending increases, with by far the biggest preference being for increasing spending on healthcare. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A large majority of voters favour increasing spending on public services and welfare ahead of reducing taxes and charges, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll.

Offered a menu of choices between tax reductions and spending increases and asked to pick one priority, voters overwhelmingly prefer spending increases in a variety of areas, with by far the biggest preference being for increasing spending on healthcare.

As the Government puts the finishing touches to Tuesday’s budget, Ministers will be reassured their stated intention to devote two-thirds of available resources to spending increases, with one-third going to tax cuts, is broadly the approach favoured by the public.

The aggregate support for tax cuts as the single priority for voters is 19 per cent comprised voters who choose the reduction of income tax (7 per cent), the reduction or abolition of the universal social charge or USC (10 per cent) and the reduction or abolition of water charges (2 per cent).

Support for spending increases is ranged across more priorities and is significantly greater, with the aggregate of those who chose some form of spending increase as their single priority at 72 per cent.

By far the single biggest priority for voters is increasing spending on healthcare, the poll finds.

Healthcare spending

Among political parties, Fine Gael voters (33 per cent) are most likely to nominate healthcare spending as their priority.

The option favoured by the next biggest group of voters is to increase spending on housing and homelessness, with 14 per cent nominating this as their priority. This number rises to 20 per cent in Dublin.

Increasing social welfare payments is a priority for just 4 per cent, behind increasing the State pension, although - perhaps not surprisingly - this is favoured by 19 per cent of the over-65s.

Fine Gael voters are not noticeably more supportive of tax cuts than the general public, or voters of other parties. Just 6 per cent of voters say that they would like income tax cuts as their single budget priority, while 14 per cent would like to see the universal social charge reduced or abolished.

Aggregate ‘tax-cutting’

In the past politicians and the people who work for them have tended to be suspicious of the findings of these polls which often reflect a desire for greater social and public spending.

They believed - or many of them did - that while people might push increased spending with pollsters, when they were in the privacy of the polling booth they were more likely to vote “selfishly” for tax cuts.

This was part of the rationale for the Fine Gael general election campaign, and its high-profile promises to abolish the USC.

Since then, however, many politicians in all parties have taken account of what they believe may be a shift in voters’ attitudes to favouring public spending and investment in public services ahead of tax cuts.

That is part of the analysis that underpins the construction of Tuesday’s budget. Today’s poll result will reinforce it.