After Turbulent Year, Plurality of British Public Think Conservative Party Under Johnson is Capable of Winning 2024 General Election

April 16, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Approval Rating | Boris Johnson | Conservative Party | GB Politics | GB Public Figures
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When Boris Johnson secured the largest majority for the Conservative Party since 1987 during the last General Election, few would have expected the global health and economic crises that would start a few short months later. The pandemic has inevitably challenged the Government and derailed its plans, but despite the difficulties of this year, research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that Boris Johnson’s approval rating is on the rise and much of the public believe he is a better leader than his recent predecessors. Moreover, many could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under his leadership and find him capable of winning the next General Election.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating currently stands at +9% and has remained positive for ten consecutive weeks. 43% of the British public approve of Boris Johnson’s performance as Prime Minister while 34% disapprove.

Approval of Boris Johnson’s performance is highest among respondents aged 65 and over (50%) and lowest among 18-to-24-year-olds (37%). Nevertheless, a significant minority in each age group (30% to 39%) disapproves of his performance.

70% of respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 say they approve of Boris Johnson’s performance since he became Prime Minister, while 14% disapprove. Substantially more 2019 Conservative voters approve of Boris Johnson’s performance than 2019 Labour voters approve of Keir Starmer’s performance (48%). Despite not having voted for his party, a quarter (26%) of 2019 Labour voters approve of Boris Johnson’s performance.

Keir Starmer’s net approval rating stands at +2%, substantially lower than Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s. However, Boris Johnson’s net approval rating was well below that of Keir Starmer as recently as February. While Starmer’s approval rating has not dipped below 0%, Johnson’s net approval rating was negative for months in late 2020. Moreover, the Prime Minister’s net approval rating is considerably lower than Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s (+31%).

Boris Johnson’s recent popularity appears, in large part, a result of the success of the vaccination programme and the sharp decrease in coronavirus cases. Indeed, 30% of the public believe a Government led by Keir Starmer would have rolled out vaccines at a slower pace than the current Government.

The net approval rating of the Conservative Party since the 2019 General Election stands at +5%: 39% approve and 34% disapprove.

While the large majority of 2019 Conservative Party voters (70%) approve of the Party’s performance since the election, a notable fifth (19%) neither approve nor disapprove and a further tenth (10%) disapprove. Just 16% of 2019 Labour voters and 21% of 2019 Liberal Democrat voters approve of the Conservative Party’s performance since last December.

A plurality (45%) of the public agree with a statement suggesting that they see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson, while 37% disagree.

A plurality in each age group agrees that they could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson, despite age differences in voting intention. 41% of 18-to-24-year-olds agree that they could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson while a third (33%) disagree and a further fifth (19%) neither agree nor disagree, suggesting that younger people could be more open to voting Conservative than voting intention polling alone suggests.

Almost half (48%) of respondents say, yes, they find the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson capable of winning the next General Election in 2024, while 29% think otherwise. A quarter (23%) say they don’t know.

Nearly half (47%) of 2019 Labour voters say no, they do not find a Johnson-led Conservative Party to be capable of winning in 2024, despite the considerable Conservative win in 2019. Just 28% say yes, the Party is capable. By contrast, 73% of 2019 Conservative voters think the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson is capable of winning the next General Election.

Only 20% say they are unfamiliar—or at least more unfamiliar than familiar—with Boris Johnson and what the Conservative Party stands for under his leadership, compared to 42% for Keir Starmer and the Labour Party under his leadership. It is worth noting that Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister contributes to such disparities as this position inevitably comes with greater exposure.

Men are more likely to say they are familiar or very familiar with Boris Johnson and what the Conservative Party stands for under his leadership (62%) than women (49%). The majority of both 2019 Conservative voters (66%) and 2019 Labour voters (56%) say they are familiar or very familiar.

A large majority of the British public say they have either heard ‘a great deal’ (37%) or ‘quite a lot’ (40%) about Boris Johnson in the news recently. A further fifth (18%) say they have seen ‘some’ coverage and just 5% say they have seen ‘very little’.

Further, the vast majority (85%) say they have seen enough of Boris Johnson to have made a fair judgement of him.

Approximately half (48%) of the British public say Boris Johnson is a likeable figure, while a sizeable 40% do not.

Half of 18-to-24-year-olds (51%) do not think Boris Johnson is likeable against 37% who do. By contrast, majorities in the age groups over 45 (50% to 56%) think Boris Johnson is a likeable figure.

Despite voting for his Party in the 2019 General Election, 16% of Conservative voters do not think Boris Johnson is a likeable figure. To be sure, three-quarters (74%) do. Less than a third (29%) of 2019 Labour voters consider the Prime Minister to be a likeable figure.

A plurality of the public (34%) think Boris Johnson is more right wing than they are and a quarter (26%) think he is just as right wing as they are. A tenth (10%) say Boris Johnson is less right wing than they are. Almost a third (30%) say they do not know, but this uncertainty may be because individuals are unsure about their own politics rather than Boris Johnson’s or because many do not conventionally think about politics on the basis of positions along a single line.

Again, there are no significant age differences despite older age groups being more likely to vote Conservative.

42% of 2019 Conservative voters think Boris Johnson is just as right wing as they are, while a quarter (24%) think he is more right wing than they are and a tenth (10%)—in line with the overall population—think he is less right wing than they are. By contrast, a plurality of 2019 Labour voters (47%) think Boris Johnson is more right wing than they are, 15% think he is just as right wing as they are, and 12% think he is less right wing than they are, suggesting that ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ associations with leaders of political parties may not be straightforward.

Compared to the two most recent Conservative Party leaders, pluralities think Boris Johnson’s leadership is better than David Cameron’s (36%) and Theresa May’s (41%). Even so, approximately a third (30% to 33%) think Boris Johnson is a worse leader than either.

The majority of 2019 Conservative voters think Boris Johnson is a better leader than David Cameron (55%) and Theresa May (64%), with just a fifth (18%) thinking he is worse than either. 22% of 2019 Labour voters think Boris Johnson is a better leader than David Cameron and a quarter (25%) think he is a better leader than Theresa May.

Thinking back to earlier leaders, pluralities think Boris Johnson is a better leader than Michael Howard (29%), William Hague (30%), and John Major (31%). A significant portion, however, say they do not know whether Boris Johnson is a better or worse leader than any of these predecessors (17% to 24%).

However, a plurality (37%) thinks Boris Johnson is a worse leader than Margaret Thatcher. Approximately a quarter (24%) think he is a better leader and a further quarter (27%) say he is neither better nor worse.

Younger respondents are more likely to say that Boris Johnson is a better leader than Margaret Thatcher.

Notably, opinion that Boris Johnson is a worse leader than Margaret Thatcher is largely driven by Conservative voters: a plurality (42%) of 2019 Conservative voters think Boris Johnson is a worse leader, compared to a smaller plurality (34%) of 2019 Labour voters. A quarter (23%) of Conservative voters think Boris Johnson is a better leader than Margaret Thatcher, as do 28% of Labour voters.

Despite a turbulent and unexpected year of difficulties, the public still find Boris Johnson capable of winning the next General Election and could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under his leadership. By virtue of his prominent position as Prime Minister and his long career in the public eye, the vast majority of the public feel they have seen enough of Boris Johnson to be familiar with what the Conservative Party stands for under his leadership—unlike Keir Starmer. Boris Johnson’s approval rating has seen a significant rise in recent months and has surpassed Keir Starmer’s. Even so, Boris Johnson’s net approval rating has fluctuated significantly in the past year and, while Keir Starmer’s net approval rating has not dipped below zero, the Prime Minister’s was negative for months in late 2020––suggesting that swings in either direction could still be in store.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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