Support for the government’s handling of the outbreak remains high. While it has declined from an initial peak, far more people think the government are handling the issue well than badly (YouGov’s latest tracker has 58% saying the government are doing well, Opinium has 48% approve/36% disapprove). This is equally reflected in the voting intention polls where the Conservatives are steadily around 50% and in Boris Johnson’s own personal approval ratings, which YouGov has at 66% doing well. Collectively these are extremely impressive figures for a government.

However, look further down and there are signs of weakness in the foundations. There are several, important areas where the public view the government’s handling very negatively. Opinium have found people disapprove of how the government have handled both testing and the provision of PPE. At the start of the month YouGov found that 67% thought the government had prepared badly for the possibility of a pandemic and 62% thought lockdown had been introduced too late. MORI also found 66% thought the government had acted too late. Compared to other countries, people think that the British government has performed worse than the governments of Germany, South Korea, Australia, France, Spain… the only country’s government perceived as doing worse than our own is the USA. Put together that looks like a narrative of failure.

How do we square these two sets of figures? Why do people think the government are doing well, despite also thinking they’ve handled some of the key areas poorly and got some of the most important decisions wrong? My own explanation is that we may be seeing an unusual amount of public goodwill towards the government – a willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt, accept that they are doing their best under incredibly difficult circumstances. Normally we are very cynical towards our politicians, but right now it may be that people are more willing to trust their motives, to want them to succeed.

It’s also worth noting that, even if the public think the government haven’t always performed capably during the crisis, right now there is strong public backing for their direction of approach. The public are strongly in favour of the lockdown and the government are pursuing a policy of lockdown. Therefore, the public approve. The British public have been extremely pro-lockdown since early in the crisis – back in March, the public were ahead of the government in supporting further restrictions and they remain supportive of it.

Back at the end of March I pondered how long the high levels of public support for lockdown would last once it was actually in place and impacting people’s lives, and how the government would fare if they got to the point that the public were clambering for relaxation. So far it appears to have lasted just fine, and it is possible that the government may have to face the alternative problem – how to start loosening the lockdown when the public are nervous of it.

Right now there is little public appetite for a weakening of the lockdown. A YouGov/SkyNews poll on Friday found only 15% thought it would be right to start relaxing the lockdown now. A Deltapoll survey for the Sun on Sunday today found only 12% of people thought the government should start ending the lockdown in the next week.

That is not to say that whatever Boris Johnson announces tonight will be unpopular (the questions above did not specify particular ways of weakening the rules, so I expect respondents assumed some sort of substantial weakening of the rules, rather than the extremely minor relaxations which seem more likely at this point). However, there are problems ahead. Sooner or later lockdown needs to be unwound, and it remains to be seen how united public opinion will be behind the timing for that.

It will also be interesting to see what the levels of public support for the government look like afterwards. Their present high levels of approval may be the result of backing for lockdown, or a general willingness of people to give the government the benefit of the doubt during a crisis. Whatever the reason it will pass, and only then will we be really be able to see whether, looking back in hindsight, the government are seen to have successfully led the country through a difficult time of crisis, or as a government that bungled its response.


4,715 Responses to “On why the public support the Government’s handling of the virus”

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  1. @Davywel
    ‘If a similar brake failure had hit a train running into Kings Cross or Euston, the BBC would have found space despite their present obsession with Dominic Cummings.’

    Well of course they would…. both are terminii…

  2. @Colin – well i think you laid into me not so long ago when I suggested Johnson’s announcements leaned heavily on judgements of polling sentiment rather than science, and now you seem to be agreeing with someone saying the same thing.

  3. Apologies, I’ll repost.

    How times move on.

    As I wrote a few days ago, the shine is well and truly off this Johnson Government and 50% + poll ratings a distant memory. Holding on to 40%+ will be a challenge.

    The threats coming down the track to the “bluff and bluster” strategy with the EU will be very real is the likelihood of a Biden Presidency continues to increase as Trumpism self-immolliates.

    Johnson may find himself in a similar situation to May, and the situation of no deal exit vs compromise.

  4. Hello all

    Since Comcast secured ownership of Sky News, it has become a worthless sensationalist broadcaster. The political editor, Beth Rigby, is awful and resembles a cub reporter on the Auchtermuchty Bugle.

  5. Fabulous article in The Times this morning on the 1970 World Cup.
    The best ever, best teams, best individuals and the first in colour.
    I commend it to you.

  6. The mentality of secrecy behind the UK’s coronavirus response is highlighted by two tales this morning.

    Firstly, it’s all gone quiet on the number of people being tested. This information was released up until May 22nd, but has been withheld since then. The government excuse is

    “Reporting on the number of people tested has been temporarily paused to ensure consistent reporting across all pillars….” even though they are still reporting some of the pillars while withholding others.

    The second tale is the call from Andy Burham to release the regional R number calculations. These are being withheld from not just the public, but also from regional and local administrations.

    I would challenge anyone to come up with valid reasons why these data aren’t released that doesn’t involve government embarrassment.

  7. The Doctor who treated Boris says that Covid is this generation’s polio and we shall have to live with it.
    Sobering, but true.
    Time to get on with it, ignore those now moaning we are coming out of lockdown too quickly. They were moaning the other way not so long ago, and they will moan regardless. The puritans were ever thus , this is merely their latest guise.

  8. OLDNAT

    “Surprising that you agree that Islam is better than Smith,”

    Yes sloppy posting on my part, I was agreeing about Islam as I’m sure you knew.

  9. @ COLIN – Very well written piece in PB. Thank you for posting that.

  10. Colin/Alec,

    My partner who is not political at all (and voted leave by the way) said why did he (PM) not wait until Monday to announce the 6 people can meet change as this weekend would be crazy (her words).

    She, not me, said on reflection it was trying to get people talking about something other than Cummings.

  11. I ought to add that it might not be true but non political people now believe that to be the case. In politics perception is in some ways more important than reality and whether Alec is right or not about polling and the ‘narrative’ having too great an influence on policy or not many people are now believing it does for the PM and this Government.

    All fine and Dandy if things turn out OK but if they don’t the electoral impact can be serious.

  12. @ ON & TCO last night:

    You have been kind not to criticise my stupid error last night – the sleeper was heading east into Waverley, so could have met head-on a train arriving from Berwick.

    Oh the memories of that sleeper train. Like one night during Ted Heath`s 3-day week when it backed into King`s Cross only at the time it was due to leave. Then loosed onto the platform, we realised the coaches were unlettered, and most didn`t seem to have their attendants.

    So we piled on board and hunted for a compartment not already filled. Many were still in the corridors when the train set off north almost immediately. And then we hoped that the coach we were stuck in was going to Aberdeen.

  13. New thread

  14. @colin

    “I thought Vallance, yesterday signalled uncertainty about TT’s ability to control after next weeks relaxations.”

    It might be worth noting as well that the Government hasn’t published any figures for the number of people tested for 7 consecutive days.

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