One of the reasons for my scepticism about the comments from people such as Tim Farron about putting housing at the centre of the Liberal Democrats policy pitch is that the public regularly says housing isn’t its priority.
The public rarely rates housing high as an electoral issue. That is both somewhat bafflingly, given how much housing features in people’s conversations of their own current circumstances and their hopes or fears for the future, but also a consistent finding over the years and right up to the present.
The latest MORI issue tracker, for example, has housing down in 7th place, with only 15% of people saying it is the most important issue facing Britain today, whilst the latest YouGov issue trackers had only 21% saying housing is one of the three most important issues facing Britain (putting it in joint 5th place), with an even lower 16% saying it is one of the three most important issues facing them or their family (which is the form of the question that is usually a better predictor of political behaviour by voters).<
Those are not the sort of figures which suggest a political message centred on housing will succeed, at least at a Westminster general election – for as Lib Dem activist James King pointed out to me, people in London do say housing should be a major priority for the Mayor of London.
Now there’s another polling finding reinforcing this point.
When the public was asked to name up to three areas which they would most like to see benefit from any increase in public spending, less than a quarter of the public (24%) named housing as one of their sets of picks. In London, true, the figure was much higher (37% – a big enough difference to be statistically significant given the size of the crossbreak) but overall housing came behind by statistically significant margins to health services, support for the elderly and disabled, transport and schools.
When it came to whether people would be prepared to pay more in taxes to fund such increased spending, support for building more homes dropped to just 9%.
It is also worth noting that education did reasonably in the poll results but did not stand out brilliantly, something to remember as Nick Clegg pushes the idea that education should be central to the party’s 2015 manifesto.