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.


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.


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Today’s Sunday papers have the first polls conducted since the local elections, from Opinium and ComRes.

Opinium for the Observer have Westminster voting intentions of CON 22%(-4), LAB 28%(-5), LDEM 11%(+5), BREX 21%(+4), GRN 6%(+2), ChUK 4%(nc), UKIP 4%(nc). Fieldwork was between Wednesday and Friday, and changes are from late April. Full tables are here.

ComRes for BrexitExpress have voting intentions of CON 19%(-4), LAB 27%(-6), LDEM 14%(+7), BREX 20%(+6), GRN 5%(+2), ChUK 7%(-2), UKIP 3%(-2). Fieldwork appears to be all on Thursday, and changes are since mid-April.

Both polls have Labour and the Conservatives rapidly shedding support, with support growing for the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit party. I suspect we are seeing a combination of factors at work here, most obviously there is the continuing collapse in Conservative support over Brexit, a trend we’ve been seeing since the end of March, with support moving to parties with a clearer pro-Brexit policy. Originally that favoured UKIP too, now it is almost wholly going to the Brexit party.

Secondly there is the impact of the local elections and the Liberal Democrat successes there. For several years the Lib Dems seemed moribund and struggled to be noticed. The coverage of their gains at the local elections seems to have given them a solid boost in support, more so than the other anti-Brexit parties – for now at least, they seem to be very much alive & well again.

Third is the impact of the European elections. People are obviously more likely to vote for smaller parties in the European elections and in current circumstances obviously appear more willing to lend their vote to a different party in protest over Brexit. To some degree this will be influencing other voting intention figures as well, so I would treat Westminster voting intention figures with some scepticism in the run up to the European elections (and probably in the immediate aftermath as well, when those parties who do well will likely recieve a further boost in support).

In short, these are startling results – but we have seen startling results before (look at the polls at the height of SDP support, or just after the expenses scandal broke, or during Cleggmania). These are indeed very unusual results – the combined level of Con-Lab support in these polls are some of the very lowest we’ve seen, the Conservative share in the ComRes poll almost their lowest ever (I can find only a single Gallup poll with a lower figure, from back in 1995). What we cannot tell at the moment is whether this portends a serious readjustment of the parties, or whether things will return to more familar patterns once the European elections have passed, the Conservatives have a new leader and (assuming it ever happens) Brexit is in some way settled.

Both polls also had voting intention figures for the European Parliament elections

Opinium Euro VI – CON 11%, LAB 21%, LDEM 12%, BREX 34%, GRN 8%, ChUK 3%, UKIP 4%
ComRes Euro VI – CON 13%, LAB 25%, LDEM 14%, BREX 27%, GRN 8%, ChUK 6%, UKIP 3%

Both have the Brexit party ahead, though they are doing considerably better with Opinium than with ComRes. In both cases the Liberal Democrats have recieved a post-local election boost, putting them above the Conservatives in European voting intentions.


Opinium’s fortnightly poll in the Observer today has topline voting intention figures of CON 41%(+4), LAB 34%(-6), LDEM 8%(+1), UKIP 7%(nc). Fieldwork was between Wednesday and Friday, and changes are from Opinium’s previous poll in mid-January, conducted straight after May lost her vote on the deal, but won her no confidence vote.

A seven point Conservative lead is the largest since the election. While it is not significantly larger than the 5 or 6 point leads YouGov have been showing this month, it’s a noticable change to Opinium’s previous recent polls, which have tended to show Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck.

As ever, one should be a little cautious about reading too much into a single poll. Survation’s poll for Thursday’s Daily Mail had fieldwork conducted on Wednesday, so actually overlaps the fieldwork period for this poll and showed a one point Labour lead with no meaningful swing from Labour to Conservative. It would be wise to wait and see if subsequent polls confirm whether public opinion has shifted against Labour, or whether this is just an outlier.

Also, be cautious about reading too much into what has caused the change. We really don’t know if there has been a change yet, let alone exactly where it has come from and why (not that it will stop people assuming things). It has been two weeks since Opinium’s last poll, and an awful lot has happened – so one cannot pin the change on any one specific event. Neither can cross-breaks really give much guidance (as Michael Savage notes in the Observer, Labour are down among both remainers and leavers… though discerning any signal from the noise of crossbreaks would be difficult even if the change was all on one side).

The full tables from Opinium are here.


A brief update on the state of the polls as we head towards Christmas. First let look at voting intention. The six voting intention polls we’ve seen published so far in December have all shown the two main parties essentially neck and neck – two have shown tiny Labour leads, two have shown tiny Conservative leads, two have had them equal (the YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign in the Sunday papers today may have had a slighter larger lead, but it shouldn’t upset the average).

Opinium (14th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 39%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 6%
YouGov (7th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 3%
Kantar (6th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 5%
Ipsos MORI (5th Dec) – CON 38%, LAB 38%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
YouGov (4th Dec) – CON 40%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 4%
ComRes (2nd Dec) – CON 37%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 6%

Despite the incredibly turbulent situation in British politics, there has been relatively little change in voting intention since the general election. Through late 2017 there was a very small Labour lead, for most of 2018 there was a very small Conservative lead (with a few periods of Labour ahead – most significantly the weeks following the Johnson/Davis resignations). At no point has either party really pulled away. Politics may have been chaos, but voting intention have been steady.

This itself is remarkable given the state of the government at present. If you look at any other measure, they are in a dire situation. The government’s net satisfaction rating in the MORI poll last week was minus 45 (24% satisfied, 69% dissatisfaction). That is comparable to the sort of figures that the Brown government was getting in 2008 or the Thatcher government in 1990… both periods when the opposition had a clear lead in voting intention. Any question asking about the government’s main policy – the delivery of Brexit – shows that a solid majority of people think they are doing badly at implementing it. Today’s poll from Opinium found people thought the party was divided by 69% to 18% (and quite what those 18% of people were thinking I do not know!). And yet, the Conservatives remain pretty much neck-and-neck in the polls.

I can think of three potential explanations (and they are by no means exclusive to one another). The first is that people have simply switched off. The ongoing chaos isn’t impacting people’s voting intention because they are not paying attention. The second is that voting intentions may still be being largely driven by Brexit and, regardless of how well the Conservatives are delivering Brexit, they are the main party that claims it is committed to doing so, and while support for Brexit has fallen, the split in the country is still normally around 47%-53%.

The third potential reason is that Labour are not a particularly attractive option to many voters either – one of the few clear changes in the polls this year is a sharp drop in Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings. At the end of last year his approval rating from MORI was minus 7, in the MORI poll last week it was minus 32. On YouGov’s Best Prime Minister question he continues to trail well behind Theresa May (and often both of them trail behind “Not sure”).

While it is interesting to ponder why the voting intention figures remain stable, it’s not necessary particularly meaningful. In the next four months Brexit will either go ahead with a deal that many will dislike, go ahead without any deal with whatever short or long term consequences that may bring, or be delayed or cancelled. Any of these has the potential to have massive impact on support for the parties.

On Brexit itself, public opinion on what should come next is not necessarily much clearer than opinion in Westminster. Throughout 2018 opinion has continued to drift slowly against Brexit – asked if we should remain or leave polls tend to find a modest lead for Remain – typically showing a swing of around 5 points since the referendum (They are helpfully collated by John Curtice here – his average of the last six polls to ask how people would vote now currently shows a Remain lead of 53% to 47%).

While the majority of people don’t support Brexit any longer, that does not necessarily translate into clear
support for stopping it, or indeed for most other courses of action. Poll after poll asks what the government should do next, and there is little clear support for anything. Theresa May’s proposed deal certainly does not have majority support (YouGov’s Sunday Times poll last week found 22% supported it, 51% opposed. MORI’s poll found 62% thought it was a bad thing, 25% good). When Opinium asked what should happen if the deal was defeated, 19% wanted to re-open negotiations, 20% said leave with no deal, 10% said have an election, 30% have a referendum, 11% cancel Brexit altogether. When MORI asked a similar question with slightly different options 16% said renegotiate, 25% said no deal, 10% an election and 30% a referendum.

When polls ask directly about a referendum they tend to find support (although, to be fair, most polls asking about referendums normally find support for then – it is essentially a question asking whether the respondent would like a say, or whether politicians should decide for them). However, a new referendum is obviously a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

And therein lies the problem – there is scant support for most plausible leave outcomes, but reversing Brexit in some way risks a significant minority of voters (and a majority of the government’s supporters) reacting extremely negatively indeed. In the YouGov Sunday Times poll last week they asked what people’s emotional response would be to the most plausible outcomes (current deal, no deal, soft Brexit, referendum and no Brexit). Would people feel delighted, pleased, relived, disappointed, angry, betrayed, or wouldn’t mind either way?

If Britain ended up leaving without a deal 23% would react positively, 53% negatively.
If Britain ended up leaving with the proposed deal, 20% would react positively, 51% negatively.
If Britain ended up with a softer Brexit, staying in the customs union and single market, 27% would react positively, 35% negatively.

Finally, if there was a referendum and Britain voted to stay, 42% would react positively, 39% would react negatively. This is the outcome that would have a positive reaction from the largest proportion of people, but it would also be by far the most divisive. When asked about their reaction to the deal or a soft Brexit, most people gave people towards the middle of the scale – they’d be disappointed, or relieved, or wouldn’t mind. Asked about reversing the decision to Leave, answers tended to the extremes – 26% would be delighted, but 23% would feel betrayed, including 51% of people who voted Brexit back in 2016.