YouGov’s latest poll for the Times has topline voting intention figures of CON 40%, LAB 40%, LDEM 6%, GRN 5% – the first time that the Conservatives have lost their lead in a YouGov poll since Boris Johnson became leader. Opinium also put out a poll showing the parties neck-and-neck at the end of August, though there most recent poll has the Conservatives ahead again. Other recent polls have also showed a narrowing – Redfield & Wilton had 2 point Tory lead this week, Survation 2 points and NCPolitics 4 points earlier in September.

To some degree this isn’t really a surprise. The Conservatives no longer have the advantage of a more popular leader, with Keir Starmer consistently getting higher approval ratings than Boris Johnson. The “rally round the flag” factor – the tendency for people to support the government at times of national crisis – has now vanished, and public opinion is increasingly critical of the government’s handling of the corona outbreak. In YouGov’s tracker the proportion of people thinking the government are handling corona well is down to 30% (lower than any of the other countries tracked). The question may perhaps be why the Conservatives aren’t doing worse?

Part of that may be the underlying factor of Brexit. Boris Johnson was elected primarily on a platform of delivering Brexit – it is still seen as one of the most important issues facing the country, and the Conservatives still have a solid lead on delivering it. There is also still a lack of confidence in the Labour party – while Starmer is seen as a potential Prime Minister, people still appear to have very little idea what he stands for (the YouGov poll today contained questions asking what issues people cared about the most, and what issues people think the Labour party and Keir Starmer himself cared about. The latter returned an overwhelming Don’t know). Only 28% of people think that the Labour party looks ready for government, and they have negative trust ratings on issues like the economy, Brexit or defence & security. While Starmer’s leadership has had a good start, the Labour party has a way to go.

Either way, at this stage in a Parliament the importance of less is less predictive (after all, there are probably years to go), and more the impact on party morale, and how the parties are percieved. Remember, one of Boris Johnson’s main selling points to the Conservative party was that he was popular with the public. He was the Tory who could reach parties that other Tories could not. What becomes of him if Labour pull ahead and the Tory party realise that he isn’t popular anymore?


Recent voting intention figures continue to show a moderate Conservative lead of between 6 and 9 points. Voting intention polls published so far this month are:

YouGov/Times (5th Aug) – CON 42, LAB 36, LD 8
Redfield & Wilton (12th Aug) – CON 43, LAB 36, LD 9
Ipsos MORI/Standard (4th Aug) – CON 45, LAB 37, LD 6
Survation (3rd Aug) – CON 44, LAB 35, LD 8

While the media narrative around the government’s handling of the Corona outbreak has turned far more negative, the polling suggests the public are still quite evenly split. So in the latest Ipsos MORI monitor 42% think the government have handled the outbreak well, 40% badly.

Keir Starmer continues to poll positively. His satisfaction rating from MORI is plus 22, by 38% to 24% people think he has what it takes to be a good PM. In YouGov’s regular “best PM” question Starmer led Johnson by 34 to 32% last week – the first time the Labour leader has been in the lead since a single poll straight after the 2017 election. Starmer apparently polling more positively than Labour is an interesting dynamic. MORI have (or used to have) a nice tracker question asking if people like the leader, like the party, both or neither. Over the last couple of decades people have consistently liked the Labour party more than they’ve liked its leaders. I don’t think they’ve asked it yet of Starmer, but all other other polling suggests we may find ourselves in the unusual position of having a Labour leader who is more popular than their party. A different question is to what extent this is because Starmer appeals to the public more than his predecessors, and to what extent it’s a sign that the Labour party’s own brand has been tarnished.

Immigration has started to sneak up the political agenda again, presumably on the back of coverage of migrant boats in the English Channel. YouGov’s weekly tracker on the most important issue facing the country has immigration spiking up 9 points to 29%, though health, the economy and Brexit remain the dominant issues. The Ipsos MORI issues index shows it significantly lower – up 3 points to only 9% – but the fieldwork for that is a little older (conducted 31st Jul-5th Aug), so may have concluded before the story really hit headlines.

The week there was also a new YouGov poll of Scotland. Voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament election next year were SNP 57%, CON 20%, LAB 14%, LDEM 8% for the constituency vote, SNP 47%, CON 21%, LAB 14%, LD 7%, GRN 6%. Translated into seats this would likely give the SNP a solid overall majority despite the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system.

That would increase the chances of another independence referendum in the near future. The same poll found that by 44% to 41% people thought there should be a referendum in the event the SNP win a majority, and that as things stand people would vote yes. 45% of people they would vote yes, 40% no. Removing won’t votes and don’t knows, that translates to Yes 53%, No 47%. Tabs for the Scottish polling are here.


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The average Tory lead in June’s Voting intention polls so far is around 5 points, with the Tories in the low forties, Labour up in the high thirties. The level of party support appears to have settled down since the fading of the “rally round the flag” effect in May.

Looking away from the coronavirus polling it is now almost two months since Keir Starmer became Labour leader, so we have an initial chance to see how he’s registered with the general public.

When I write about results for “who would make the best Prime Minister?” question on social media I often get comments along the lines of “its easier to look like a good Prime Minister when you are Prime Minister”. This is correct, but it doesn’t devalue the question. It is indeed easier to look Prime Ministerial when you are Prime Minister, and this is an advantage that the PM will enjoy in real life, and will enjoy come any election. It is not the case that Prime Ministers always lead on this question. When he was leader of the opposition Tony Blair was consistently ahead of John Major on this question, David Cameron often polled ahead of Gordon Brown. Therefore Starmer’s ratings in his first few months look promising – YouGov had him neck-and-neck with Boris Johnson earlier this month, the latest Opinium poll for the Observer has him two points ahead of Johnson as preferred PM.

Questions asking about Starmer in his own right also seem positive. He has solidly positive approval ratings from YouGov, Ipsos MORI, Survation and Opinium. YouGov’s questions on leader attributes give him strongly positive ratings on being decisive, strong, competent and likeable. By 40% to 32% people say he does look like a Prime Minister in waiting.

It is a cliche to say that first impressions count, but that doesn’t mean it is untrue. History is littered with opposition leaders who really didn’t come across as being capable or substantial figures in their early months in the role and never recovered. Starmer became leader at an unusual time – the coronavirus outbreak very much dictated what he spoke about and concentrated upon. It gave him an immediate challenge of getting his response right to a major crisis. In one sense this is an opportunity – it is a large, serious issue where the leader of the opposition can show they are a serious politician with serious things to say. However, it also brings the risk of being ignored as an irrelevance, or being seen as opportunistic if you pitch it wrong (compare and contrast with the failed Tory leaders during their period in opposition – Iain Duncan Smith became Tory leader immediately after 911… and was ignored; William Hague shortly before the death of Princess Diana, and struggled to speak for the people in a way that came naturally to Tony Blair). Judging by his initial poll ratings, Starmer appears to have passed this initial test.

It’s worth noting that all the polling I’ve referred to here comes from before the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey. While that is certainly important for what it tells us about Starmer’s willingness to stamp his authority upon his party, I don’t expect it to make much difference to this figures (realistically the sacking of a shadow cabinet minister is not often something that produces any reverberations beyond the most seasoned Westminster watchers). But as ever, we shall see.

Right now Starmer’s popularity isn’t translating into a polling lead for the Labour party, but having a leader with a popular image who is seen as a plausible Prime Minister gives them the right foundation should the Government’s support falter. The Conservative Government has two huge challenges ahead of them (Brexit and Corona). Either would be daunting alone, let alone both together. For the past few years they have faced the luxury of being up against a not particularly effective opposition, riven by internal divides and with a leader whose support was deep rather than wide. It’ll be interesting to see how they cope with their challenges when they are up against a more substantial opposition.


While much of our circumstances remain anything but normal – the outbreak continues and the country remains in partial lockdown – politics as usual has started to re-assert itself. Or at least it has in terms of public opinion. The rally around the flag period appears to have ended and people are once again willing to be critical of the government. The government’s approval ratings have dropped and the large Tory lead in the polls has deflated.

In one sense it was inevitable that this would happen sooner or later – partisanship would reassert itself. The specific trigger however seems to have been the badly handled announcement of the minor lockdown relaxations on the 11th May, at a time when the public had very little appetite for any relaxation at all. That knocked the Conservative lead in the polls down to the low teens, and first pushed their approval rating into negative territory.

That was compounded by the Dominic Cummings affair. Certainly polling on the specifics of the Cumming affair were strongly negative, with most of the public thinking he had broken the rules and should resign. More importantly it appears to have damaged the government’s wider support, with the three polls conducted since then showing a Conservative lead of only 5 or 6 points. Note that all three of those polls were conducted at the start of this week when the story was still at its height – it remains to be seen whether the polls have yet to pick up the full damage, or whether they will recover now the story has moved on.

As the Cummings story fades somewhat, the focus is likely to go back to how and when the government ease the lockdown relaxations. The announcement that people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 6 in their gardens actually seems to have gone down well, with two-thirds of people supporting the change. The more substantial change in the week ahead though is the re-opening of schools, something which most polling has suggested people are opposed to. If the opening of the schools is seen as a failure (or worse, if death rates or infection rates are seen to start creeping back up again), it can only further damage the government’s standing with the public.


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.