I missed YouGov’s latest poll earlier this week – topline figures did not show anything new, with voting intentions of CON 42%, LAB 25%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 11%.

More interesting was the regular tracker on how well or badly the government are doing at negotiating Brexit: 36% said well, 34% badly. YouGov have been asking the question since last autumn and this is the first time it has scraped into positive territory, presumably because the government and EU have actually made the first steps towards beginning the process.

YouGov also released a survey asking some more detailled questions about how people see Theresa May. There is a clear pattern to what people view as her strengths and weaknesses – a majority of people think she is decisive (56%) and has what it takes to get things done (56%). On balance people think she is good in a crisis (by 44% to 24%) and is honest (by 40% to 25%). However, she is also seen as being out of touch (by 46% to 32%), as having no sense of humour (by 32% to 27%) and a cold personality (by 45% to 26%).

As May herself said in her first Prime Minister’s Question Time – remind you of anyone? The public perceptions of May’s character are similar to the public perceptions of Margaret Thatcher – someone who is a strong and capable leader, but not particularly warm or caring. YouGov also asked directly how similar people thought May was to previous PMs – 47% said she was similar to Thatcher, 31% thought she was different.

It’s interesting to ponder in which direction the causality works here. Do people think May is similar to Thatcher because they have some similar strengths and weaknesses and aspects to their characters… or do people think of May as similar to Thatcher because of the obvious superficial similarities (a female, Conservative, Prime Minister with a strict demeanour) and have, therefore, assumed that May will have the same sort of characteristics as Thatcher. In short, do people think May is like Thatcher because she’s tough, or think she’s tough because she’s like Thatcher? Or, as these things tend to work in real life, do they reinforce one another?

Tabs for voting intention are here, tabs for May are here.

211 Responses to “YouGov poll on how Theresa May is seen”

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  1. Are the traits May scores poorly on of any importance? History has shown ‘being in touch with the people’ doesn’t mean a good government at all.

  2. The causality in my opinion May is a woman with a resemblance to Thatcher therefore she has Thatcher’s traits. I think May has got this far by deliberately playing up her resemblance to Thatcher as that plays well in the Tory party and has led to her being promoted beyond her abilities.


    Her resemblance to Thatcher doesn’t help her in Scotland
    UK approval +23
    Scotland approval -26

    Good ideas to improve the country
    UK +7
    Scotland -30

    In touch with ordinary people
    UK -14
    Scotland – 46

    The Scottish media were pushing a line about May’s popularity in Scotland recently based on a SkyData poll. Doesn’t stand up to proper polling even given the fact these are subsamples.

  3. @CMS

    Actually ‘people like me’ is a fairly good predictor of voting intention.

    “On the side of people like me”

  4. Thank you, Mr Wells.

    Fascinating stuff.

    Mrs May seems to sweep all before her….at the moment.


    Yep-whilst she faces Corbyn, I can’t see it changing.

  6. @COUPER2802

    The overall picture of May’s rating in Scotland compared to the UK overall is pretty much in line with the findings from the much larger sub sample ( 980 or so) from the Ashcroft poll.

  7. @Rudyard

    “Mrs May seems to sweep all before her….at the moment.”

    In England (and Wales?) possibly but not in Scotland. If she wants to preserve and strengthen her “precious Union” she needs to be doing much better in Scotland.

  8. S Thomas

    Not that it greatly matters, but Couper is the same sex as yourself.

    Assuming that folk are male is usually unwise, and seldom polite.

  9. Oldnat

    Your point regarding gender is very topical, I think.

    A note, via electronic mail, from my children’s school recently advised that after the Easter break, they would be “gender blind.” There are to be no references to Boys or Girls, just young adults or young humans.
    This follows pressure from the School Council.
    Society is moving in this direction, I think, being driven by our young people who, of course, are the future.

  10. &Rudyard – sounds like a pile of proverbial to me – Boys and Girls come out to play etc etc – what a bloody world we are painting for our children – a world that is gender neutral or ‘blind’ – I hope parents kick up a fuss – it’s all getting rather ridiculous.

  11. An article out today from the European Council on Foreign Relations: Hard Borders of the Mind: Brexit, Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement is well worth a read, albeit somewhat rose tinted with:

    The European Council and the UK have committed to preventing the re-emergence of a border on the island. This is a credit to both parties, and to the Irish Government, which has spent months raising awareness of the Irish issues. The task ahead is not insurmountable, but while the negotiators address the question of the hard border on the island, they must also be attentive to the hard borders of the mind in Northern Ireland.

    We’ve all heard Ms. May’s “no return to the borders of the past“, but not recently IIRC. If her negotiating team is saying this then good for them, but if so it seems surprising that it is not being reported by the UK media.

  12. @bz

    Of course, “no return to borders of the past” does not rule out a new journey to the borders of the future.

  13. @Rudyard “after the Easter break, they would be “gender blind”
    Just out of interest, how will this work?
    ‘Sex and relationships education is to be made compulsory in all schools in England, the government has announced’

  14. Sine Nomine

    The point that the Headteacher stressed in the communication was that this decision had been student driven. The students had reported a number of them weren’t comfortable with the existing boy/girl emphasis and the Head, after a consultation process with various support groups and health professionals decided to adopt the new policy.
    The view being that anything that improves the health, safety and wellbeing of the students is to be embraced.
    It does seem to be the way society is moving and I guess the school is reflecting this.

  15. HIRETON @ BZ

    Point taken, but someone from “Team UK” must have said something in the preliminary Brexit skirmishes for the ECFR to have picked it up from the EC team. Possibly lost in translation, of course, although the instant translators at the meeting will have picked up the nuances and passed them on.

  16. Dave

    A very good observation. I guess “flexibility” is the key point here. There is a communication due after Easter regarding acceptable terminology so we, as parents, can buy into the whole concept. The Head wants the parents to embark on the same journey.

  17. Rudyard

    Things can be taken a little too far sometimes, though.

    For many purposes, there is no particular reason to distinguish between the sexes (and in human biology terms, the relevant word is “sex” not “gender”).

    However, being so blind to sex, that a school could (theoretically) accidentally produce classes which were massively skewed towards either sex, or not identifying that only girls were to get the HPV vaccine, would be foolish.

    Sex is important – just not in most things, most of the time.

  18. Rudyard

    Thanks for the further elucidation. That sounds a more sensible.approach.

  19. @” acceptable terminology so we, as parents, can buy into the whole concept. ”


    Gender isn’t a “concept”-its a fact ……….otherwise there wouldn’t be any human being worrying about “acceptable terminology”.

  20. What about the Lord Ashcroft poll of earlier this week showing Cons 41, Lab 28. You seem to be selective on polls that you print.

  21. I’m afraid some us including me will shortly be visiting the compulsory “re-education” camps.

  22. i did read somewhere that if you had ever been on a course or were in a job in which courses were offered you were more likely to have voted remain.

    perhaps we should poll people as those who had or had not ever been on a course.

  23. I missed it when it came out on Monday, but in the short period since A50 triggering, Reuter’s report Twenty-one countries vie to host EU drug agency after Brexit, including:

    With nearly 900 skilled staff, an annual budget of 322 million euros ($340 million) and luring 36,000 experts a year to its meetings, the EMA is the largest EU institution in Britain and an attractive prospect for multiple cities.

    Its new location will be determined by EU heads of state, meeting as the European Council, leaving plenty of scope for haggling.

    Unsurprisingly it doesn’t seem to have had much coverage in the UK media.

  24. @Colin

    I think you’re muddling up your sexes and genders. Sex relates to biological fact, so you can be male or female or some very few will be medically intersex. Gender relates to social concepts, so you can have things like hijra or eunuch which are undeniably genders, but not sexes.

    The confusing bit is that we have some words like man, woman, male, female which sometimes are used to refer to sex and sometimes to refer to gender and if that isn’t specified people end up communicating at cross-purposes.

  25. May has certain personality traits that are similar to Thatcher’s but she lacks the latter’s sharp intellect and political ability. May is more of an imitation of Margaret Thatcher rather than the ‘full monty’. I’ve always seen May as more of a caretaker PM than a long term one. In fact I’m not even sure that she will be PM by the 202 elections, especially if negotiations go badly. In the latter case someone like Hammond could step in as a a compromise candidate while Johnson would be damaged as foreign secretary.

  26. I meant 2020 election, of course.

  27. I think the future problem for Theresa May is that if you are perceived as competent but not likeable, then if your competence comes into question you will be finished very quickly.

    In my view as Home Secretary she showed a considerable lack of competence on several occasions, and was very lucky to escape any blame for the self employed NI fiasco recently. I await her fall from grace with some degree of anticipation, I must confess!

    Thatcher showed competence right up to the Poll Tax, but boy did that finish her quickly!

  28. I hear that the chairman of Falkirk FC is raising the issue of how the UK’s departure from the EU is going to impinge on football clubs’ ability to employ European Union footballers.

    At present those from outwith the EU must have played for their national team in order to be considered for a work permit and the Falkirk chairman was asking if this will apply to all EU players as well once the UK leaves the EU.

    Has TM (or anyone else in the UK government) offered any advice on the subject to football clubs? And my guess is that the same ruling will apply to rugby clubs as well.

    And whatever ruling is issued will apply in both directions of travel, of course.

    Does the status of ‘playing for the national team’ finish when a player is dropped from the national squad? And if so, how does this interact with, say, a three or five year contract?

    Anyone any ideas?

  29. I doubt if the issues of footballers will influence VIs by much, but we live in strange times……..

  30. @ ANDREW111

    I think the future problem for Theresa May is that if you are perceived as competent but not likeable, then if your competence comes into question you will be finished very quickly.

    The rumours about Theresa May being (as Ken Clarke put it) a b. difficult woman do seem to keep coming. Yesterday, it was that civil servants don’t care for her and are the 30 – 50y olds are leaving. Today, it was her difficult relationship with the Westminster lobby.

  31. Is May unpopular in Scotland relative to the UK? Yes.

    Is she unpopular in Scotland, relative to recent Tory leaders? I don’t know, but this seems like the more interesting statistic.

    Are subsamples how either question should be answered? COME ON.

  32. BP

    Cameron doesn’t seem to have benefited north of the Border from his family’s obviously Scottish origins. The last UK Tory leader to have any substantial personal support in Scotland was probably Macmillan.

  33. SYZYGY,

    Yes, she dealt Heseltine in a very abrupt way considering his tireless service to the Tory Party over the years. Usually such ageing grandees are left in peace even if they disagree with the new leadership.

    When I look at Theresa May I always imagine her saying “You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment”….. Just the effect she has on me!

  34. @billpatrick

    The Scottish sub-sample of the Ashcroft poll was nearly a thousand people

    I’m not clear why you think comparisons with previous Tory leaders are important. May has set herself the task of preserving and strengthening the “precious Union”. If she is going to do that shouldn’t her approval rating be somewhere nearer to at least 0 if not in positive territory?

  35. Hireton @billpatrick

    In terms of the Preciousss, isn’t Davidson’s approval rating compared her predecessor and with with May’s important indicators?

    In 2011, Annabel Goldie had +10% in the MORI April Scottish poll (against Salmond’s +33% and Iain Gray’s +1%) yet that did not translate into votes, as Salmond was considered by many SLab & SCon voters to be a more capable FM than their own leader.

    Politics has undergone a fairly profound change since then, but Davidson’s ratings still languish behind Sturgeon, and may be further affected by her response to the two child family cap (we’ll see).

    May and Davidson do have one aspect in common. Both are facing leaders in the Labour Party who are widely seen as incompetent, and have taken votes from Labour.

  36. @ ANDREW111

    She dealt Heseltine in a very abrupt way considering his tireless service to the Tory Party over the years. Usually such ageing grandees are left in peace even if they disagree with the new leadership.

    That’s very true … and whilst it must have been tempting to humiliate Osborne, it was probably not very wise politics (small ‘p’).

    I am a little mystified by Mrs May’s currents ratings so I think there probably is some transference with Mrs Thatcher. I don’t experience Theresa May as having either the certainty or confidence of her predecessor… but whatever one thought of Mrs T, she unquestionably attracted a commitment from her followers that still persists. I can see the temptation that there might be for some to hope for Ms May to be Thatcher2.

  37. syzygy

    Any man who allegedly strangles his dog, brexit, should never be allowed to be left in peace.

    He has a new puppy called farron.perhaps the puppy, rather underservedly, will escape the fate of his predecessor.

  38. Contingency planning is always worth while, and the Irish Senate has compiled a major bit of research on how a United Ireland could be peacefully and prosperously managed – should Brexit lead to that outcome.


    One of the most compelling points argues that while the United Nations Human development index, which measures health, education, and income levels worldwide, ranks Ireland as sixth in the world alongside Germany, Canada and the United States.

    By contrast, Northern Ireland ranks 44th, with Hungary and Montenegro, but would drop below 50th post-Brexit, closer to Kazakhstan and Belarus.

  39. Oldnat

    Ireland is a very complex subject. Having spent considerable amounts of time both sides of the border, and knowing lots of people on the island, I feel with goodwill and trust, matters can be resolved.
    We must alwsys have hope.

  40. Hireton,

    I should have been more clear: I meant the subsamples in this poll.

    “If she is going to do that shouldn’t her approval rating be somewhere nearer to at least 0 if not in positive territory?”

    What do you mean “shouldn’t”? Are you predicting that the UK will break up if that doesn’t happen?


    I would be cautious about overinterpreting a subsample in a single poll, even (especially) if it provides a conclusion that I like!

    A more sensible strategy would be to look at the trend of (weighted) polls, like a psephologist.

  41. “Compelling” to the report’s author Oldnat (mere confirmation bias because they clearly already want a UI), is not the same as being convincing to a N.Irish person who does not want it. And comparing N.Ireland to Belarus is just silly. Outside of a few pockets of deprivation, N.Ireland is for the most part extremely pleasant with the highest A’Level results in the UK – Kazahstan it is not.

    That said, Foyle, W.Belfast and N.Belfast (which do include the most deprived areas) are amongst the 10 UK constituencies with the highest benefits claimant rate. The idea that a majority of southern Irish people will be happy to find 9-10B extra euros of their own money to make good the UK subvention is wishful thinking. The Southern taxpayers will quite rightly take the view that the North would have to share in their pain – SF voters may well have to be careful what they wish for.

  42. @Bill patrick

    I mean that she has said that she wants to preserve and strengthen her “precious Union”, wants Scotland to trust her to negotiate a good deal for Scotland and wants to reverse devolution. If she really means all of that she surely needs to have some positive approval ratings in Scotland unless you think she can simply dictate to Scotland backed up by English votes in the UK?

  43. Bill Patrick

    Lots of variants of the leader questions in “What Scotland Thinks” (though they don’t have the critical data of approval by party VI).


    “I would be cautious about overinterpreting a subsample in a single poll,”

    Me too, and also over-interpreting a single Full Scottish or GB poll! – hence I only made a passing reference to the Ashcroft poll.

  44. Thomas

    I doubt that you read the link I gave to the story on the report.

    If you had bothered to do so, you would have known that it doesn’t have a single author, but is the report of research from multiple sources commissioned by the Senate.

    Even the summary in the link makes it clear that the objections seen by a “N.Irish person who does not want it” (I think you meant Unionist) are not easy to deal with.

    If you consider that unanimity is needed for constitutional change, then fine. There is no problem. The UK won’t go ahead with Brexit, and both parts of Ireland can peacefully co-exist in the EU.

  45. No real question that polls do show strong support for May.

    I’m not sure she really warrants such levels of support per se, but often this is as much about your opponents as anything else. There is a element of contrasting with the alternatives here, I feel.

  46. Has there been much controversy in England about the Two Child cap on Tax Credits – or has that been largely ignored there?

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