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. TOH

    Surprising that you agree that Islam is better than Smith, when you say you know nothing about her.

  2. OldNat

    Would you be so kind as to send me the link to that Gerry Hassan article again please? The one about the decline of SLab.

  3. Sorry if others have already noted this, but the 8th SAGE meeting clarifies why the four UK Governments abandoned contact tracing.

    I’m reading through the released SAGE minutes from Feb/March & oh wow- some of the conclusions they reached were way off. 8th SAGE meeting: ‘When there is sustained transmission in the UK, contact tracing will no longer be useful.’ (Prof Devi Sridhar)

  4. The problem of relying on polling to condemn Cummings, is that to be fair, one should subject all politicians and advisors etc. to such questions: find summat they did that was a bit dodgy and do a poll on it.

    Ideally you’d do it after the media have plastered the public consciousness with it for a few days first.

  5. OldNat

    It is. Thanks!

  6. “The distance travelled is of little or no importance, so long as the possibly infected person is self isolating or family isolating.”

    ———-

    Well quite. He could travel half way to Alpha Centauri and back and it might be preferable to spending 30 minutes on the tube at rush hour.

  7. Carfrew

    Its certainly true that the public won’t have a view on whether a public figure has broken the rules if they don’t know about it.

  8. Carfrew

    I would be insouciant about Cummings travelling half way to Alpha Centauri. It’s the coming back that would be problematic. :-)

  9. Carfrew: The problem of relying on polling to condemn Cummings

    I don’t think anyone’s “relying on polling to condemn Cummings.”

    Instead, I at least am relying on polling to assess public opinion and the likely political effect. Isn’t that what we’re here for?

  10. @CBX

    “I also think it public interest for people to be aware as Starmer isn’t sacking him like he said he would Cummings.”

    More important that the chappie in/close to government is sacked, then Starmer has to reciprocate. Sack em both.

  11. Oldnat

    LucidTalk asked folks in NI to compare their government’s handling with Scotland, Wales, England and Republic of Ireland; results out next week.

    https://twitter.com/LucidTalk/status/1266416680294645763

  12. @Carfrew

    I’m relying on the simple logic that others in positions of influence/power/expertise were found to be breaking the rules, and had to go.

    It’s that simple. Goose. Gander.

  13. @oldnat

    “I would be insouciant about Cummings travelling half way to Alpha Centauri. It’s the coming back that would be problematic. :-)”

    ——

    You can take comfort in relativity. As you get closer to the speed of light, time dilates more. So a trip that might be like just a few weeks for Cummings might mean he would be away for years, decades even, here on earth. The further you send him away, and the faster, the greater this effect,

    If he were to maintain an acceleration of 1g, bearable for humans, then by his clock it would take him forty years or so to reach the centre of the galaxy. But to us he’d be away for more than 60 thousand years.

    He might like the idea of that at the moment…

  14. @John33

    “I don’t know why people continue to fuss over the finer details of all this, arguing over semantics and technicalities. It was only ever the optics that mattered and whether the public felt that Cummings had abused the spirit of lockdown. ”

    You’re right of course; it’s often much more about how it looks rather than how it really is. That dichotomy can work for or against you in politics. Sometimes the look is better than the reality. In Cummings case, maybe the opposite is true

    It’s worth remembering though that it all started to go really p*ar-shaped for Cummings after his dis*strously ill-conceived and delivered R*se Garden press conference. This was watched by a vast audience and he was allowed to state his case. largely in his own words, not dist*rted or refracted through the lens of the print media. He had the public he allegedly understands so well at his mercy. Nothing but him and the millions of viewers.

    And they watched him, and they listened to him. He read a carefully crafted statement and answered many questions. He was there in the flesh. Words, tone and body language; he had the full panoply of communication tools at his disposal. A unique opportunity to put the record straight and expose the l*es and fals*hoods he claims are being said about him by the press.

    And I guess the millions watching formed their views accordingly.

  15. Next poll is Opinium tomorrow; it will be very interesting to see how the Cummings scandal affects this.

  16. Interesting that Trevor, ToH, Colin who are ROC and myself who is LOC, think Faisal Islam in impressive.

    I have no idea what his politics are but he seems to get to the kernel of an issue in a way other TV Journalists seem unable to as they are in the main in the Gotcha school of the media.
    Sophie Ridge is another who impresses, in sharp contrast to Marr who was pants pre-stroke and is no better now.

  17. @Somerjohn

    “Instead, I at least am relying on polling to assess public opinion and the likely political effect. Isn’t that what we’re here for?”

    ——

    Now, that’s a reply that might be more suitable for someone who suggested we don’t do the polling,

    Whereas I suggested doing more of it.

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

    Today, if I understood, it was established that SAGE did not authorise Level 3. We are still at 4-but pressing ahead with relaxations.

    There are 2k to 8k new cases per day.

    Ringing around my group of same age friends this evening , I would say the consensus is concern that these changes are too soon.

    Must confess I feel the same.

  19. @Statty

    “I’m relying on the simple logic that others in positions of influence/power/expertise were found to be breaking the rules, and had to go.”

    ——-

    I am not challenging that. Indeed a few days ago I reprised the merits of how it used to be: resigning regardless of how much to blame you are, if you are in the seat of responsibility.

    Actually I am just suggesting that if we are to have these public “assessments”, why confine it to just Cummings?

    The guy whose idea it was to put VAT on Storage, for eggers.

  20. That Lucidtalk poll is strange. Everyone agrees. That can’t be right. :D

  21. VAT on storage? Even storage vats? ;)

    It’s a service, like any other. Why pay VAT on anything? Cos the Gov says (pinching this from Goodfellas),

    “f*** you, pay me”

    And that’s life.

  22. Jim Jam

    I agree – both Islam and Ridge seem like people who do their homework and I have no idea what their politics are. Yet they ask good questions and are not pushovers in any sense. Shows how it can be done.

    They also don’t do too much twitter and don’t seem egotistical.

    I think journalists should reduce their use of twitter and should stop seeing their job as being to tweet out every minor piece of spin a source gives them; its not impressive journalism.

  23. Cummings isn’t really a blagger. We saw that in the Rose Garden. Jesus Christ.

    What he is, is someone who will infuriate those who actually are rather keen on proper blaggers.

    He’s what we used to call at school a “try-hard”. Blaggers hate seeing try-hards do better than other blaggers. You’re supposed to blag your way in without effort. Not spend ages writing 230 page reports etc.

  24. Statgeek

    The LucidTalk tweet has a slide from YouGov but even so I agree – everyone agrees Scotland did it best.

    I think the poll can be read as giving an idea of party support. Labour London thinks non-Tory Scotland better than Tory England?

  25. @Statty

    It’s not just a service. It’s more a way of life.

  26. The Coronavirus epidemic and the Cummings scandal, and the UK government’s mishandling it has thrown up some issues about devolution – its quite a problem if UK government messes up its handling of things in England given that e.g. Scotland is powerless to stop infected people from England spreading it to Scotland again.

  27. @ Colin

    Agreed and John Edmunds comments are suggesting this also- not heard the “following the science” so much recently. We seem to be heading towards a lot more blurring of what are scientific decisions and political/economic ones.

  28. @ProfHoward

    “Labour London thinks non-Tory Scotland better than Tory England?”

    That would be a refreshing change, and especially from SLab.

  29. I regard Cummings as a pretentious know-it-all (perhaps as well as a try-hard). He does have an interest in science and data analytics etc which is admirable but his rambling blogs do not display the lucid exposition that I think is usually the hallmark of someone who really understands it all.

    (Just my hunch. I am not well disposed to him since I seem to disagree with him on everything!)

  30. Shevii

    Yes, I read John Edmunds’ comments as a subtle but clear marker to say there is now some difference between the scientific advice the governments approach. He’s usually pretty careful not to upset the applecart so significant from him.

  31. On the perception of our leaders` strengths Johnson v Sturgeon, it could be argued that Johnson is the stronger (as yet) because he hasn`t caved in to populist pressure about their top advisors seemingly breaking lockdown guidance.

    Nicola was at first minded to keep Calderwood on, then changed her mind, which was probably politically wise in the short term.

    The difference in my view is that Calderwood was relatively easy to replace with an equally capable medic. But Boris is much more dependent on Cummings having a pretty mediocre cabinet and one of the few capable ones, Gove stuck in the EU leaving negotiations.

  32. Carfrew: The problem of relying on polling to condemn Cummings, is that to be fair, one should subject all politicians and advisors etc. to such questions: find summat they did that was a bit dodgy and do a poll on it.

    [PiousMode=On] You don’t use polling to condemn people, you use polling to discover how condemned they are.[PiousMode=Off] You only poll on those for whom you are interested in how condemned they are.

  33. ProfHoward

    ” I think journalists should reduce their use of twitter and should stop seeing their job as being to tweet out every minor piece of spin a source gives them; its not impressive journalism.”

    Very true. Twitter politics has become a bit of a fast food way of delivering constant drama and sensationalism for us to gorge on. They are always trying to outdo each other with ” BREAKING”, ” NEW” etc…

  34. @TO

    “[PiousMode=On] You don’t use polling to condemn people, you use polling to discover how condemned they are.[PiousMode=Off] You only poll on those for whom you are interested in how condemned they are.”

    ———-

    This rather depends on which universe one finds oneself in.

  35. One of Lucid-Talk’s staff has done a nice blog on rally-round-the-flag effects including data from Scotland, UK, and many other places:

    https://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-rally-round-the-flag-effect-and-covid-19/

    I find the effect in Ireland quite interesting. They held an election just before the crisis, in which the incumbent FG government lost seats; but there was no agreement on who should form the new government, so the incumbent Taoiseach continued in post and now his FG party has had a massive surge in support. Sadly for him he can’t hold a snap poll for a while.

  36. Curious. Does ‘excess deaths’ take into account deaths which probably wouldn’t have happened if a lockdown had occurred in other years?

    e.g. with made up numbers: 10K deaths per year, this year 15K, but 3K less deaths attributed to outdoor pursuits, such as road accidents, sports etc.

    I just wonder if they take 15K subtract 10K and declare the excess as a simple 5K or 150%.

  37. Crossbat

    Good to hear from you – with meaning to be sycophantic, it is always a treat to be endorsed by you!
    I also think the Presser was the moment things took a turn for the worse. I actually felt a bit nervous in the build up to watching it – as if he had an ace up his sleeve that would turn everything on its head, leaving the media with egg on their face. It may seem strange that someone would be rooting for the media, particularly one that has been less than charitable to more recent Labour leaders. Nevertheless, the way Cummings attempts to pit the public against the ‘ lugenpresse’ as he tries to characterise it, sends chills down my spine.

  38. *without* of course!

  39. Statgeek – yes, I think that’s what they do.

  40. @TOH

    “You have lost the argument, and really should move on.”

    Yes, like a good little compliant serf.

    I prefer to observe what the public will make of the antics of Cummings in polling.

    A Government run by a cabal removed from the Tory Parliamentary party may soon have to answer more serious questions.

  41. Prof Howard

    Thanks for the info on the Lucid Talk poll. It will be interesting to see the results.

    I don’t always pick up on the niceties of NI politics, but would I be correct in thinking that while most on the Irish Nationalist side see the Republic as the “route to follow”, it is a little less clear among the British Nationalists?

    How much they hear of Wales, I don’t know. Where there is an apparent divergence between the behaviour of an increasingly English Nationalist government in London, and a Scottish Nationalist one in Edinburgh, how will there predispositions to make judgements perform?

    Maybe we’ll find out next week.

  42. I know Old Nat posted the link to Orb earlier but I thought I’d just pull out this comparison of leaders:

    On whether Boris Johnson is showing leadership during this crisis:

    Agree: 42%
    Disagree: 51%

    On whether Keir Starmer is showing leadership during this crisis:

    Agree: 45%
    Disagree: 27%

    via
    @ORB_Int
    , 27 – 28 May

    Comment: this polling indicates that Mr Johnson has a net negative rating, while in comparison Mr Starmer has a net positive. It is probably best not to over-react to this individual poll but if Mr Starmer continues to do better than Mr Johnson I think it will be the first time since Mr Blair and Mr Howard that there has been a Tory leader that is consistently outperformed in the polling by his opposite number. (Is this right?)

  43. OLDNAT

    “I don’t always pick up on the niceties of NI politics, but would I be correct in thinking that while most on the Irish Nationalist side see the Republic as the “route to follow”, it is a little less clear among the British Nationalists?”

    At the start of the crisis it looked like there would be tensions along such lines but that did not go down well with the electorate and more recently the Executive have worked pretty well as a team, and have been open that they have different philosophies but a common goal. The Health Minister, who is from the UUP, has adopted a pragmatic stance. There is an issue regarding whether to use the same App as the ROI or the one used in GB and he has said he will use whichever suits NI best. I think that the electorate like that sort of attitude, in the main. In the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the Executive parties treated the island as the appropriate epidemiological unit to great success, so there’s a precedent for such pragmatism, and they are taking the same approach, more or less, now.

    “How much they hear of Wales, I don’t know. Where there is an apparent divergence between the behaviour of an increasingly English Nationalist government in London, and a Scottish Nationalist one in Edinburgh, how will there predispositions to make judgements perform?”

    I don’t really like to divide NI into binary “British Nationalist” and “Irish Nationalist” in such a stark way, because people tend not to realise that there are in fact all manner of people who see themselves in all manner of ways, and increasingly so I sense, but going along with this for the sake of discussion, the IN on the whole would be predisposed to SNP-Scotland and on the whole the BN to England. But there is no great love either for Johnson or for Tories in either community, both communities would have, I think, little enthusiasm either for Mr Johnson’s approach to the Cummings scandal or his recent approach to the crisis. Of course you can find exceptions on twitter, I’m talking in generalities and I may be wrong as I am working off limited data.

  44. Prof Howard

    With these Agree/Disagree (or similar) formulations there is always(? certainly usually) more who have definite opinions on the person in office, as opposed to those who aren’t.

    Hence only 7% don’t declare a judgement on Johnson, while 28% don’t have any certainty about Starmer.

    Which is why I think net ratings tend to be potentially misleading.

  45. @John33

    “Good to hear from you – with meaning to be sycophantic, it is always a treat to be endorsed by you!”

    Ah well, we mustn’t lapse into a mutual admiration society here, but it’s always heartening to see posters I enjoyed reading, like yourself, return after absences. I’m not quite with Alec in that I fear some may have slipped off their mortal coil when they stop posting for a while, although that’s always possible I suppose, but I do sometimes think what may have become of them after they disappear.

    I agree with your assessment of Cummings press conference. It was a painfully arch piece of atrocious acting and blatant b*llsh*t that backfired terribly. And when you think of the rehearsal time that must have gone into it with Johnson’s spin team beforehand, it was a risible performance.

    I loved the little folding camp table though and seemingly hastily grabbed ill fitting chair. Much thought obviously went into that part of the charade, along with the rolled up sleeves of his shirt. He probably copied that off one of his old prep school teachers he once admired.

    If you’re going to fake it that much, as they say, you’ve got to be able to pull the thing off.

    :-)

  46. Oldnat

    Yes – good point. He has had little attention compared to other new leaders. The Labour leadership contest was rather a low key affair and the news has been dominated by the virus. It will take time.

    I think Jim Jam prefers “best prime minister” to the approve-disapprove formulation for the reasons you outline.

  47. Prof Howard

    Thanks for the response.

    I take your point that the core nationalisms in both traditions range from total commitment in the extremes to “meh” on both “sides” among the less ideologically pure.

  48. CROSSBAT11

    Dominic Cummings and Richard Branson both dress the casual way they do to signal that they are not men of convention – to signal that they are free thinkers. At least that is my best guess.

    Just personally I find his dress and the way he appears in most photos and TV clips pretty off-putting. But I am not his target audience.

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