Steve Akehurst
Steve Akehurst

By Steve Akehurst

Guest blog: Housing at highest level of voter concern in 5 years

We’ve been saying for a while now that housing is bubbling up as a key issue for voters, and that England’s housing shortage is now a crisis affecting broad swathes of the voting population. Shelter’s report Homes for forgotten families published last week shows just how expensive it is for low to middle income families to afford a family home in their area.

New polling by Ipsos MORI last week seems to confirm how concerned people in England are about housing. Housing is now on a par with crime and education as an issue of concern. It’s notable that this anxiety comes at a time of rising house prices – perhaps Help to Buy doesn’t look such clever politics after all.

 

Ben Marshall is Research Director at Ipsos MORI.

Back in January we found 80% of the British public agreeing that “there is a housing crisis in Britain”. In that same month a much smaller proportion, 9%, spontaneously mentioned housing to Ipsos MORI interviewers as an important issue facing the country.

Fast-forward six months and the 9% had fallen to 7%. Then, last month, we published our latest Issues Index showing housing at 14%.

This is the most salient housing has been since May 2008. In fact, of the 287 measures since the start of 1988, housing has only been more salient six times and never higher than 17%. YouGov ask a similar question but show respondents a list, and have housing fifth of thirteen issues.

Of course, this rise in salience has coincided with house price rises and there has been much talk of booms and bubbles. Media coverage matters: we have found that salience is more driven by, than being a driver of, the media agenda. These cannot, though, be entirely independent of each other and media, public and political interest apparently feed off each other; witness the twelve-fold rise in the salience of immigration during the Blair years.

Increased attention on the housing market comes at a time when a majority don’t want to see price rises (23% do). There are also very real worries about affordability, and an expectation that prices and rents will continue to rise. Housing currently has higher salience among private renters (23% of this group mention housing) and, thus, younger age groups. Meanwhile, older age groups worry about the housing prospects of young people.

Locally – and hyper-local electoral strategies are predicted for 2015 – housing is above crime, schools and health services considered in need of improvement although the public are less sure about there being a local ‘housing crisis’ than a national one. The issue is more front-of-mind in some parts of the country especially London – a key electoral battleground at the next general election – where it features high up the pecking order, behind only the economy, unemployment, the NHS and immigration.

Even so, increased public and political attention do not necessarily make housing an important, vote-winning issue. As well as mattering to enough people, if an issue is to be electorally ‘sticky’ the public must discern difference between parties’ policies and be confident in their favoured party’s ability to change things if elected. And, anyway, issues can be crowded out by voter’s impressions of leaders and parties (there is, though, possibly scope for housing here as an aspirational, ‘image’ issue).

The challenge remains to frame and articulate housing as the kind of mass issue that gets high profile coverage in an election campaign. This is likely to involve engaging the electorally more powerful owner and mortgagee groups (as well as mobilising renters) and using a local slant in the style of ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ and ‘Yes to Homes’.

Housing’s stock does appear to be on the rise. Current political, media and public interest is an opportunity and something to build on, and it will be interesting to see what is made of housing at the upcoming party conferences.

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