There has been a fair bit of musing in the media about whether voters have become more left-wing in their policy preferences since the onset of Covid19. It seems plausible to suspect that health and economic shocks of the magnitude of those experienced this year would cause people to update their beliefs about the appropriate role that the state should play in supporting/insuring people’s incomes. So, has Covid19 put wind in the ideological sails of the left?
We can get a sense of the answer to this question using a mixture of BES and PACER data. Each survey series has asked, at various points, the following two survey questions:
Using the 0 to 10 scale below, where the end marked 0 means that government should cut taxes a lot and spend much less on health and social services, and the end marked 10 means that government should raise taxes a lot and spend much more on health and social services, where would you place yourself on this scale?
Some people feel that government should make much greater efforts to make people’s incomes more equal. Other people feel that government should be much less concerned about how equal people’s incomes are. Where would you place yourself and the political parties on this scale?
The response options for the former were 0-10 with 0 anchored at “Government should cut taxes a lot and spend much less on health and social services” and 10 anchored at “Government should increase taxes a lot and spend much more on health and social services”. The response options for the latter were 0-10 with 0 anchored at “Government should try to make incomes equal” and 10 anchored at “Government should be less concerned about equal incomes”. N.b. the tax/spend question responses thus run right-to-left while the redistribution question responses run left-to-right.
Here’s what we get when we plot the (raw unweighted) average response by wave for each of these questions:
Looking at tax/spend preferences, then, we actually see some evidence of a move in a more right-ward ideological direction since December 2019. On the other hand, looking at redistribution preferences, there is some evidence of a more left-ward shift since December 2019.
The emphasised qualifiers in the previous paragraph are important, though! Across the full time span since 2018 and 2014, respectively, there is little evidence of anything out of the ordinary about the 2020 PACER observations. Despite previously unimaginable negative economic shocks and state interventions into the economy – including huge direct payments to many residents – there’s little of note in these data on mass attitudes towards fiscal policy and redistribution!