More and more believe cuts are not necessary in current shape and form: Experiments which show this is very worrying for the Lib Dems

This Government, and by association the Lib Dems, will be judged on the economy and more specifically the cuts. Opinion on the cuts has always been divided but as we are now fully signed up to the cuts, they have to be seen to be good for the country in the long run if we are to have any credibility in future elections. But it won’t be whether they are good for the country it will be whether people think they are. How people think about the cuts and the Government’s economic policy is what will make or break us as a party and there are some interesting psychological experiments which may teach us a thing or two about what to do.

UKpollingreport outlined the themes in the public opinion of the cuts earlier this year

  • 62% thought they were being done unfairly
  • 50% of people now think the cuts are too deep, compared to only 27% who think they are about right
  • 58% think they are being done too quickly, compared to 26% who think the speed is about right
  • Only 34% of people think they are good for the economy, with a majority 51%, thinking they are bad.

And suggested a trend since the General Election 2010: that the proportion of people blaming the government for the cuts is growing. This is worrying as an experiment by Kurt Gray at Harvard University about pain shows. He took participants and gave them electric shocks and asked them to evaluate the experience on a scale ranging from one (not at all uncomfortable) to seven (extremely uncomfortable). He was looking into what effect their thought on how it had been administered had on their perception of pain.

Half the time, the participants were told that their partner had chosen to shock them. The other half they were told that their partner had chosen not to shock them, but that the experimental protocol meant they had to do it. The participants who thought they had been intentionally shocked rating the pain higher than those who thought it was given unintentionally. However, they also found that the apparently unintentional shocks hurt progressively less as the experiment went on, whereas those perceived as deliberate continued to hurt as much.

What this implies is that when people think that pain is given on purpose the experience of pain is greater and non-diminishing, while when the perception is that it is not given on purpose the pain is not as painful and reduces as time goes on. Now this has nothing to do with politics but it is an interesting experiment. There are many who talk about the pain of the cuts and whether these are necessary, too deep and too fast. For those who think that the cuts are not necessary, and the charge is that this is ideological, then they may well experience the pain of the cuts more deeply and for longer than those who think they are necessary. These people will blame the Government.

The problem is that the trend is that more and more people are seeing the cuts as ideological and not necessary in the speed and amount. More people are seeing that the Government are doing this on purpose to them. This is particularly true for certain groups such as people with a disability and women.

The debate as to whether this is necessary or not was strong in 2010, however, since then there has not been as much emphasis on this. Perhaps this is because people think it will calm down? People will get used to it? Well, they won’t if they think this has been done to them when it was not necessary in the shape and form it was delivered in. We should not back down from this debate. We should keep it up. Because either it is necessary and right in the form we have chosen or it is not. And if it is not, then most Lib Dem voters won’t vote Lib Dem come 2015. What we need is for the country to understand that this is necessary and right; at the moment public perception is going in the wrong direction.

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven - John Milton (poet)

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