In the last couple of days I’ve seen three polls asking about government handling of the Coronavirus. There was a short Yougov poll shared between Sky and the Times on Friday (here), a much longer YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times (here), and an Opinium poll for this morning’s Observer (here).

I should start by saying a little to what extent public opinion matters at all on a topic like this. In judging what the correct approach is, public opinion obviously weighs little if at all compared to the opinion of experts in epidemiology. However polls are not about finding the correct answer, they are about measuring what the public think, whether that is right or wrong, wise or foolish, and on other levels this does matter. We know the government are keen to stress they are following the scientific advice, but would they be blown off that course if there was widespread public dissatisfaction? We don’t know. Perhaps more importantly, many of the actions the government will take in the months ahead will depend upon the public’s willingness to get on board and follow their instructions, so public confidence in the government’s actions really will matter.

On the topline the majority of people approve of the government’s performance:

  • in the YouGov/Times/Sky poll 55% said the government was handling it well, 31% badly.
  • In the YouGov/Sunday Times poll 53% say they have a confidence in the governments handling, 40% do not.
  • In the Opinium/Observer poll 44% approved of the government’s reaction, 30% disapproved.

Overall these are positive findings. However there is a caveat. Asked about the amount the govt have done to respond the YouGov/Sunday Times polls dound 47% think have done too little, compared to 4% too much and 39% about right. Using a differently worded question Opinium found a similar breakdown of opinion (12% over-reacting, 41% under-reacting, 41% about right). In other words, while the public support the governments handling so far, there is some feeling they should now be going further (though given the government have been explicit that they will be introducing more stringent measures in future weeks it’s probably a good sign that there is public appetite for it… it would be far trickier if the public thought the government were over-reacting).

It’s also worth noting that Opinium found that only 36% of people trusted what Boris Johnson personally said on the issue of the coronavirus, a less positive figure than the government as a whole (in contrast 59% of people said they trusted Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Advisor – suggesting the government’s strategy of regularly flanking Johnson with Whitty and Patrick Vallance at press conferences may be a wise one).

Asked about specific changes that could be introduced there seems to be widespread support for a wide variety of measures. The YouGov/Sunday Times poll found majority support for a state of emergency, for travel bans, for food rationing, for cancelling large events. Opinium found similar. Asked about closing schools (perhaps the topic that has been discussed the most over the last week), Opinium found 44% of people in favour, 26% opposed – plurality support, but not the overwhelming backing they found for some other measures.


Sky News have released a new YouGov poll of Labour party members and affiliated supporters for the leadership election. First preferences for leader stand at STARMER 53%, LONG BAILEY 31%, NANDY 16%. While on these figures Starmer would narrowly win on first preferences anyway, if you reallocate Nandy’s votes the final preferences would be STARMER 66%, LONG BAILEY 34%.

Compared to the previous YouGov poll conducted in January Long Bailey’s support is almost unchanged, while Nandy and Starmer are up 8 and 7 points respectively, presumably largely due to picking up the preferences of those who previously supported Jess Philips or Emily Thornberry. This is the first poll to include voters from affiliated trade unionists – Starmer’s support is slightly higher among affiliates than full members, increasing his lead slightly.

Looking through the demographic breakdowns Starmer leads among all age groups, among both men and women, and across all regions (though his lead is bigger in the South than the North, and bigger among older members). The most notable demographic difference continues to be in terms of social grade, with Starmer only having a lead of 4 points among C2DE respondents. The other interesting, if not wholly surprising difference is by length of membership – those people who joined the Labour party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership are more likely to support Rebecca Long Bailey, those who joined before 2015 or have joined since the 2019 election are far more likely to support Starmer.

The poll also suggests a clear winner in the deputy leadership contest. First round preferences are RAYNER 47%, BURGON 19%, ALLIN-KHAN 13%, BUTLER 12%, MURRAY 9%, with RAYNER likely to pass the fifty-percent mark once Ian Murray’s votes are redistributed. Redistributing all the votes would give a final round of RAYNER 73%, BURGON 27%.

Full tables are here.


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Voting intention polling straight after a general election is probably the least interesting of any voting intention polling, especially a general election that has produced a decisive result. That goes all the more when two of the main parties have leadership contests, so voters don’t know who is going to lead them or what is going to be on offer. Nevertheless, any tracker needs to start somewhere.

So far we have had three voting intention polls since the general election. The first post-election YouGov poll came out in this morning’s Times, with topline figures of CON 49%(+4), LAB 29%(-4), LDEM 10%(-2), GRN 4%(+1). Fieldwork was over the weekend.

We have also had a first post-election poll from Opinium (fieldwork 15th-17th Jan), which had topline figures of CON 47%(+2), LAB 30%(-3), LDEM 9%(-3), GRN 4%(+1), and BMG (fieldwork 8th-10th Jan) which had figures of CON 44%(-1), LAB 29%(-4), LDEM 11%(-1), GRN 5%(+2).

All of them show a bigger lead for the Conservatives than at last month’s general election, probably no more than a honeymoon and a reflection that Labour don’t currently have a leader.


The first voting intention polls published since the election was called were in this morning’s papers: Survation for the Mail, Ipsos MORI for the Standard and YouGov for the Times. Topline figures were

Survation – CON 34%, LAB 26%, LDEM 19%, BREX 12%, GRN 1% (tabs)
Ipsos MORI – CON 41%, LAB 24%, LDEM 20%, BREX 7%, GRN 3% (tabs)
YouGov – CON 36%, LAB 21%, LDEM 18%, BREX 13%, GRN 6% (tabs).

There’s quite a spread between the results – Ipsos MORI have the Conservatives up above 40, their highest in any poll since August. YouGov and Survation have them in the mid-thirties. Labour’s support varies between 26% in Survation down to 21% in YouGov. All three have the Lib Dems between 18%-20%. This means while the Conservative lead varies, there is a consistent Conservative lead across the board as we start the campaign.

It’s worth noting that that Tory lead is largely down to a split opposition. Even in the MORI poll the Conservatives have lost support since the election (in the YouGov and Survation polls they’ve lost a lot of support). This is not a popular government – in the MORI poll, their satisfaction rating is minus 55 – it’s just that the main opposition have lost even more support. The healthy Conservative lead is down to the fact that the Conservatives are retaining the bulk of the Leave vote, while the remain vote is split between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP, Plaid and so on.

For as long as this is the case, the Conservatives should do well. If it should change they’ll struggle. If the Brexit party manage to get back into the race and take support from the Tories it would eat into their lead. The other risk for the Tories is if the Remain vote swings more decisively behind either Labour or the Liberal Democrats (or that there are signs of more effective tactical voting, winning seats off the Conservatives despite a split vote). Essentially Boris Johnson needs to keep the Leave vote united and the Remain vote divided.

It is also worth considering how the Conservative lead might translate into seats. In 2017 the Conservative lead over Labour was only two and a half percentage points. You would therefore expect an eight point Conservative lead to translate into a majority, and a fifteen or seventeen point lead to be a landslide. In reality that Survation poll could easily be touch-and-go for a Tory majority and, while the bigger leads would likely get a Tory majority, it may not be landslide territory.

The reason that the Conservatives translated votes more effectively into seats in 2015 and 2017 was to do with the distribution of the vote. The Conservative re-emergence in Scotland meant that Tory votes up there were no longer wasted (but Labour votes increasingly were), the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in the South-West meant that the Tories vote there returned more MPs. If at the coming election we see those trends reverse, and the Conservatives lose seats to the SNP in Scotland and the Lib Dems in the South, then suddenly their votes won’t be translated so effectively into seats, and they’ll need to win more seats off Labour to make up for it.

Right now we have little evidence of how uniform or not the changes in support are, of whether there is evidence of tactical voting (Survation have released a couple of constituency polls they have conducted for the Liberal Democrats showing them doing very well in individual seats, but I don’t think it’s too cynical to imagine that the Lib Dems may have selectively published seats they are doing particularly well in). In the fulness of time I expect we will see the publication of MRP models along the lines of those YouGov conducted in 2017 that may give us a better steer, but I’ll come to that another day.

In the meantime, as we cross the starting line the Conservatives have a clear lead in the polls, but how it translates into seats is unclear. In the polls with the smaller Tory leads, it may not produce a majority at all. Equally, their lead is dependent upon the Leave vote remaining relatively united, and the Remain vote remaining divided, if that changes, the race could end up being far closer.


The position in the polls remains much the same as the last time I updated – the Conservatives still have a substantial lead, though one that varies from pollster to pollster due to methodological differences. The figures also remain somewhat artificial given we know that a major event with the potential to transform the political weather (either Brexit going ahead, or Brexit being delayed) is looming upon the horizon. Perhaps the more interesting question is, therefore, what impact is that likely to have on the polls? Or perhaps more to the point, can polls tell us *anything* useful about what impact it would have on the polls?

Most of the polling that has set foot in this rather difficult territory has attempted to shed some light on what will happen if Boris Johnson ends up seeking a delay to Brexit.

Several polls have asked who people would blame if Brexit ended up being delayed, and as a rule they’ve tended to show that people wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson or, at least, that he would not be widely blamed by Conservative supporters or Brexiteers – the voters he needs to keep hold of. YouGov found 39% of people think a delay would be Boris Johnson’s fault to a large or moderate extent, 46% think it would bear little or none of the fault. Among Leave voters only 18% thought Johnson would bear significant blame. A ComRes poll found 34% think Johnson would bear much responsibility for a delay, 33% some responsibility and 22% no responsibility at all. Among leave voters only 19% thought he would bear much responsibility, 35% some, 37% none.

However, polls that have asked how people would vote if there was an election after a further delay to Brexit have invariably shown the Conservative party losing support and the Brexit party gaining it (for example, this ComRes poll from last month). A naive reading of that might be these two approaches are contradictory (the ones asking about blame suggest most people wouldn’t blame Boris, the ones asking hypothetical voting intention imply he would pay a heavy cost) – in reality they don’t. Even if most of his supporters wouldn’t blame Boris Johnson for an extension, if 1 in 5 Tories voters blamed him enough to defect to the Brexit party it severely damage the Conservatives’ electoral hopes.

I would urge some degree of caution on both these approaches though. We are asking people to imagine a rather vague hypothetical situation. A delay in Brexit could cover all sorts of different scenarios. Maybe Boris Johnson will apply for an extension, maybe he’ll resign and someone else will. Maybe he’d have done it willingly, maybe he’d have been forced into it by the Courts. More recently it’s been floated that he could even end up seeking an technical extension in order to deliver a deal. People’s reactions may be extremely different depending on the different circumstances. For now these uncertainties should put a question mark over any polls asking hypothetical questions about how the public think they would react to a delay – if political circumstances become clearer in the next week then perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll be in a better position to do useful polling on the issue.

In the meantime we are left to speculate. The questions I ask myself when trying to predict what the impact on public opinion are these. Can I imagine Boris Johnson seeking an extension and it NOT damaging him? Well, in certain circumstances I suppose I can, yes. On the other hand, can I imagine Boris Johnson having to seek an extension and it NOT giving Nigel Farage a boost?