LONDON: Fifty-one per cent of the UK electorate is gloomy about the state of the UK economy, reports a monthly poll of voting intentions conducted by ICM for The Guardian newspaper.

The statistic respresents a dramatic plunge in confidence since December 2007 when 55% declared themselves "very optimistic" or "fairly optimistic" about economic prospects.

Among poorer voters, the shift is even more marked, falling from 51% in December to 33% this week. But voters atop the income heap remain bullish, with 64% proclaiming confidence about their current prospects versus 60% two months ago.

The implication of this schism, believes ICM, is that the gap between rich and poor is not only widening but also exacerbating public resentment.

A large majority of respondents (75%) – the highest level ever, says the pollster – believe the gap between high and low incomes in Britain is too wide. A mere 15% think the polarity is "about right".

Data that ICM interprets as public unease about the so-called super-rich.

In terms of party political support, the poll suggests only a slight shift in the underlying situation since the start of the year, with the Conservatives at 37% retaining a three-point lead over Labour (34%).

The telephone poll was carried out last weekend,  just hours before news broke of the Brown administration's nationalisation of Northern Rock.

The survey is based on a random nationwide sample of 1,003 adults aged 18-plus, with results weighted to the profile of all adults.

Data sourced from GuardianUnlimited (UK); additional content by WARC staff