Why is opinion on taxing and spending changing?

This decade has shown the most favourable attitudes towards more government spending since the late 1960s. In a standard question on whether respondents would prefer reduced taxes or more spending on social services, the proportion saying reduced taxes dropped from 57% in 1996 to 34% in 2007. Support for the more spending option increased from 17% support in 1996 to 47% in 2007. (The numbers from 1993 onwards can be seen at p.29 of this compilation of Australian Election Survey results (pdf)).

But why has opinion changed? The Age this morning reports one theory:

Ian McAllister, who has been one of the principal investigators for the ANU study since 1987 and is a professor of political science at the university, says the changing mood reflects greater support for collectivist solutions to social and economic problems.

This is due in some part to a growing cynicism towards privatisation, a view that it has gone too far, or at least far enough…. Then there’s the jump in private school fees and the cost of higher education, and the rise of private health insurance, which almost half the population now has. Juxtapose this with reports of public hospital waiting lists growing and some schools across the country needing major renovations.

Though I am the exception among the handful of public opinion researchers looking at this data, I don’t think this explains what is going on. The AES itself has results which are inconsistent with an ideological shift being a major factor. For this to drive support for more social spending nearly tripling in a decade, we would expect to see a significant leftward shift in the AES question which asks respondents to place themselves on a numbered left (0) to right (10) scale. There is leftward movement, but not by much: from on average 5.46 in 1996 to 5.29 in 2007. The electorate is stable in the political centre, but has substantially changed its opinion on taxing and spending. Continue reading “Why is opinion on taxing and spending changing?”