More than two-thirds of Conservative voters say that the government should temporarily renationalise energy companies if they cannot offer lower bills.
The poll, released by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, also shows overwhelming support for Labour’s policy to freeze the price cap this year, keeping it at its current rate of £1,971. The Opinium poll found 86% of the public and 85% of current Conservative voters back keeping the price cap.
The surge in public support for freezing prices will put pressure on the Conservative candidates ahead of a hustings on Tuesday night. Liz Truss has suggested she favours help for only the most vulnerable households – as well as tax cuts in the autumn.
Rishi Sunak has said he would cut VAT on energy bills but has also pledged to set out a more comprehensive package after the price cap announcement on 26 August.
The polling was done after a Guardian op-ed by the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, who said the price cap should be frozen and the government enter negotiations with energy firms to bring down prices by next year.
Brown said that if firms were not able to offer lower prices they should be brought into public ownership temporarily – similar to how failing banks were renationalised during the 2009 banking crisis.
Keir Starmer said he was reticent to back a similar policy, arguing that all public money should be spent on easing economic difficulties for people in need, rather than nationalisation.
Both Starmer and Brown – as well as the Liberal Democrats – have called for an extended windfall tax on energy companies to fund the cost of freezing the cap. The polling found 71% of Conservative voters said a windfall tax on energy companies should be used to fund the extra support measures.
Truss has previously ruled out a more wide-reaching windfall tax, though Treasury officials have drawn up some options to extend the current tax announced by Sunak as chancellor in May.
Brown said that there should be further support in the package for those already in crisis because of the current rising bills, who would still suffer this winter even with a price freeze.
Of those polled, 50% say more support should be offered to those on lower incomes and 40% say everyone should get extra help. Among Conservative voters, 45% back more support for everyone.
Ellie Gellard, strategic director at 38 Degrees, said: “You don’t often see polling results send a message as stark as this – sent as loudly from the Conservatives’ own voters as the rest of the country. As the leading candidate for PM, Liz Truss is making headlines for her ‘do-nothing’ plan, as the nation she wants to lead faces catastrophe. It’s time she listened to the people she hopes to represent in three weeks’ time.”
The Treasury is finalising a suite of options for the next prime minister and chancellor with varying degrees of intervention – including an extension of the windfall tax that Truss has rejected. It will also present the possibility of doubling discounts on energy bills, something which Truss ally Simon Clarke has said is also unlikely to be adopted.
Truss is more inclined to adopt plans for targeted support for the most vulnerable, likely to be paid through universal credit and pension credit, rather than support for every household. Wealthier households would benefit more from tax cuts Truss has pledged from “day one” including cancelling the national insurance rise.
That approach is likely to draw some criticism that most working people on average incomes would benefit only modestly from the tax cuts and be ineligible for further targeted support.