Regular readers will know that I have a distinctive explanation of why public opinion has shifted since the mid-1990s to favour more taxing and spending. Most researchers in this field think it is an ideological shift towards government services, while I argue that it is linked to household finances. Under my theory, when economic times are good people tend towards spending more on everything, including those services they pay for via taxation. When economic times are not so good, people want to protect their household budgets, and opinion tends towards preferring lower taxation.*
According to my theory, in a mild recession we should be starting to see a shift in opinion back towards lower tax. One indicator of perceptions of household finances I used in my original research, Roy Morgan’s consumer confidence poll, shows that while confidence is rising again it is still well below its 2007 levels, when pro-tax opinion was high.
An Essential Research poll published on Pollytics blog earlier this week on whether tax increases to fund more spending have support appears consistent with that theory.
As it would be very difficult to argue that there has been an ideological shift to smaller government in the last two years, if this finding is reliable it would support my theory.
However another question in the same poll casts doubt on whether a repeat of the usual question about social services, with no mention of infrastructure, would get an anti-tax result. It found that 73% of respondents would be prepared to pay higher taxes for better hospitals and health services, and slim majorities were also willing to pay more tax for more police, better roads, and better schools.
A 2007 question on how to spend the surplus (it seems so long ago) found little support for infrastructure spending, so possibly mention of an unpopular spending item resulted in a more negative result.
So question wording issues leave me with no clear evidence. Unless the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes or the Australian Election Survey asks a question with the same wording as in the past, and do so while the downturn persists, I may have to wait a long time to put my theory to the test.
* This is not to say there are no ideologues in the sample, but that any ideological shifts are too small to explain large medium-term shifts in opinion.