Far from suffering from an Olympic hangover, Britons are closing 2012 in a mood of fond nostalgia for the London Games, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.
By an emphatic four-to-one margin, the public said the Games were worth the expense – and there are signs that the resulting feelgood factor has rallied spirits more widely in the year of a double-dip slump.
Even after being reminded of the £9bn price tag, 78% of voters said the Olympics "did a valuable job in cheering up a country in hard times", as compared with just 20% who look back on them as "a costly and dangerous distraction".
This new vote of confidence is even more marked than that which ICM found at the height of the Games. In an online survey taken immediately after so-called Super Saturday – on which Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford all took track and field gold for Team GB – ICM asked an identical question, and found support for the games running at 55%, with 35% against. Instead of narrowing as the Games slipped into memory, that 20-point margin has widened to 58 points today. The Paralympics may have helped to cement this majority.
For all the pre-Games controversy about the public money involved, the strong retrospective support is reflected remarkably closely across the range of demographic groups and the political spectrum: 79% of men say the Games were "well worth the cost" as do 77% of women. In every age bracket, more than three-quarters of people take the same view, with the 80% of 65+ voters who gave the thumbs-up being the most emphatic of all.
A similarly crushing margin in favour of London 2012 is found in every social class, and, more strikingly, across every region. Some had feared that the Games would be heavily concentrated in the capital and its hinterland, but in fact 79% support in the south is closely matched by 80%, 74% and 77% respectively in the Midlands, the north and in Wales. Only the Scots are somewhat less enthusiastic, and even among them the overall 69%-31% balance in favour of the Games is striking.
The Olympics themselves took up little more than two weeks in a year which has also witnessed volatile weather, the diamond jubilee and the first double-dip recession since the 1970s. Asked to consider all of these things together, and reflect on 2012 as a whole, 49% of respondents said the year has made Britain a better place to live – against 41% who said the reverse, suggesting a positive public take on the Olympics is colouring wider perceptions of the year. The overall verdict ought to surprise voters themselves, who in last year's Guardian Christmas poll told ICM by a 60%-30% margin that they expected Britain would become a more miserable place in 2012.
But if London 2012 has left a feelgood legacy, it is not one which any politician – and particularly not the coalition – is finding it easy to cash in. David Cameron will be dismayed to learn that his Conservative party remains eight points behind Labour for the third month in a row.
Compared with last month, all the main parties stand still, with Labour on 40%, the Tories on 32% and the Liberal Democrats on 13%. Ukip retains the record 7% it achieved last month, which, taken together with the 9% notched up by other assorted minor parties, means that 16% of respondents are now signalling support for a party other than Westminster's big three. That is a new record in the 28-year history polling for the Guardian.
Disdain for the political mainstream comes into sharper relief when voters are asked to award a school report grade for work taken in the last year alone. No senior politician chalks up a better average grade than C- awarded to both Cameron and Ed Miliband. The one figure to do much better is the Queen, who comes in with a solid B+. And that average grade is brought down by the less loyal of her subjects: 32% of the most enthusiasticaward her an A+, a grade that only the smallest handful of voters award to anyone else.
The warm mood towards the monarch comes in a country that harbours no illusions about the Olympic year having restored its lost imperial role. Only 27% believe that 2012 allowed Britain to increases its power in the world, less than half the 61% who say that British power diminished this year. In a similarly downbeat vein, voters continue to expect the slump to drag on. Asked to look ahead to the end of 2013, 42% expect that Britain will by then have turned the economic corner, as against 51% who believe the country will still be stuck in a downturn.
While the balance of opinion on the economy leans to the negative side, the tilt is far less marked than 12 months ago. In December 2011, 68% expected a continuing downturn through to the end of 2012, as against just 27% who anticipated turning the corner by then. Likewise, expectations for the mood of the country in 2013 are less gloomy than they were for 2012 last year. By 47% to 42% respondents expect Britain to be a more miserable rather a happier place next year, a relatively even split compared with the 60%-30% margin by which voters were predicting a miserable 2012 this time last year.
The feelgood mood of the Olympic year may have smoothed some rough edges off the psychology of the double-dip recession. Despite the most sustained squeeze on pay packets since the 1920s, there is an even split – 45% to 45% – on whether Britain has got better or worse as a place "for you and your family" to live, with supporters of the coalition parties being more positive and Labour voters more negative than the average about their personal experience of the past 12 months.
After a year whose politics were dominated by a controversial budget, which cut top income tax rates for the rich, the one more emphatically pessimistic expectation relates to economic division. By a two-to-one margin of 60% to 30%, voters expect Britain to become more divided rather than less divided during 2013.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,002 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 19-23 December 2012. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
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