There are new YouGov voting intention figures for the Times this morning, with topline figures of CON 39%, LAB 30%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 3%. The Conservatives continue to have a solid lead and there is no sign of any benefit to Labour from their party conference (fieldwork was on Wednesday and Thursday, so directly after Jeremy Corbyn’s speech).
Theresa May has been Prime Minister for two and a half months now, so we’re still in the sort of honeymoon period. Most of her premiership so far has consisted of the summer holidays when not much political news happens and she’s had the additional benefit of her opposition being busy with their own leadership contest. Now that is over and we approach May’s own party conference and the resumption of normal politics.
Theresa May’s own ratings remain strong. 46% of people think she is doing well, 22% badly. Asking more specific questions about her suitability for the role most people (by 52% to 19%) think she is up to the job of PM, she is seen as having what it takes to get things done (by 53% to 19%), and having good ideas to improve the country (by 35% to 27%). People don’t see her as in touch with ordinary people (29% do, 40% do not) but that is probably because she is still a Conservative; David Cameron’s ratings on being in touch were poor throughout his premiership. The most worrying figure in there for May should probably be that people don’t warm to her – 32% think she has a likeable personality, 35% do not. One might well say this shouldn’t matter, but the truth is it probably does. People are willing to give a lot more leeway to politicians they like. In many way Theresa May’s ratings – strong, competent, but not particularly personally likeable – have an echo of how Gordon Brown was seen by the public when he took over as Prime Minister. That didn’t end well (though in fairness, I suppose Mrs Thatcher was seen in a similar way).
The biggest political obstacle looming ahead of Theresa May is, obviously, Brexit. So far people do not think the government are doing a good job of it. 16% think they are handling Brexit negotiations well, 50% badly. Both sides of the debate are dissatisfied – Remain voters think they are doing badly by 60% to 10%, Leave voters think they are doing badly by 45% to 24%. Obviously the government haven’t really started the process of negotiating exit and haven’t said much beyond “Brexit means Brexit”, but these figures don’t suggest they are beginning with much public goodwill behind them.
Finally, among the commentariat the question of an early election has not gone away (and will probably keep on being asked for as long as the Conservatives have a small majority but large poll lead). 36% of people currently want an early election, 46% of people do not. The usual patterns with questions like this is that supporters of the governing party do not normally want an election (they are happy with the status quo), supporters of the main opposition party normally do want an election (as they hope the government would be kicked out). Interestingly this still holds true despite the perception that an early election would help the Conservatives: a solid majority of Labour supporters would like an early election, most Conservative supporters are opposed.
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