A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in the days leading up to the virtually held Conservative Party’s Annual Conference this weekend found that a majority (68%) of 2019 Conservative Party voters are optimistic that the Conservative Party is most likely to win the highest number of seats in the next General Election.
Yet there are strong signs of a decrease in Tory voters’ confidence in their party. Less than half (45%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the current Government is competent, with a further quarter (25%) thinking it is incompetent. An additional 27% say they are neither competent nor incompetent. Ultimately, a significant minority are not content with the current state of affairs in Government. This minority, as we show further below, is more likely to disapprove of Boris Johnson’s job performance, to approve of the Labour Keir Starmer’s performance, to think Rishi Sunak would be a better PM at this moment, and to see themselves potentially voting for Labour in the future.
Moreover, while around half (49%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the Party understands its voters’ priorities, almost a third (32%) think the Party is out of touch with its voters.
Naturally, Boris Johnson’s approval rating is much higher among Conservative voters at +40%, yet a fifth (20%) disapprove of the Prime Minister’s performance. Since mid-April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approval rating as fallen by 55 points among the national public and by 37 points amongst 2019 Conservative voters, dropping from a net approval rating of +77%.
A plurality (42%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the Prime Minister is performing worse now, compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, while 35% think he is performing the same and approximately a fifth (18%) think he is performing better than before. A fairly large number of Conservative voters appear to think the coronavirus pandemic, and perhaps the Prime Minister’s own health scare, have impacted Boris Johnson’s performance.
Meanwhile, among 2019 Conservative voters, Labour Leader Keir Starmer holds a net approval rating of -5%. Keir Starmer net approval rating is at +20% among those Tory voters who think the current Government is incompetent, and at -20% among those who believe the Government iscompetent. Those that think the current Government is incompetent are not only less likely to approve of Boris Johnson’s performance, but they are also more likely to approve of Keir Starmer.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak retains a high net approval rating (+67%) amongst 2019 Conservative voters, and +36% nationally. Of those that think the current Government is competent, Rishi Sunak’s approval rating stands at +81%, with only 3% disapproving, and among those that think the current Government is incompetent, think the math is off here and it’s 64% minus 16% which is +48%. Ultimately, despite Rishi Sunak occupying a Great Office of State, his approval rating remains high even with those that currently view the overall Government as incompetent.
Boris Johnson holds a +27% lead on Rishi Sunak with 2019 Tory voters when asked who would be better as Prime Minister for the United Kingdom, in stark contrast to Rishi Sunak’s lead of 3% across a sample of voters from all parties. The majority (56%) of Conservative voters back Boris Johnson, compared to 29% who back Rishi Sunak. Although Boris Johnson’s approval rating is falling, Conservative voters still think he is the better option for Prime Minister.
While a plurality of Conservative voters believe Boris Johnson’s performance is declining, 61% of the Party’s 2019 voters believe he still has the edge over Keir Starmer.
And in a straight contest between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, two-thirds (66%) of Conservative voters favour Rishi Sunak and only 14% favour Keir Starmer. Rishi Sunak’s lead over Keir Starmer is smaller than Boris Johnson’s, despite significantly higher approval ratings.
Significantly, while the majority (62%) of 2019 Conservative voters would not consider voting for the Labour Party, over a quarter (27%) of 2019 Conservative voters would. Younger 2019 Conservative voters are more likely to consider voting for the Labour Party under Keir Starmer than older voters: 43% of 18-to-24-year-olds would, compared to a fifth (20%) of those over 65.
Notably, the majority (51%) of those that currently view the Government as incompetent would consider voting for the Labour Party under Keir Starmer. Among those who currently view the Government as competent, 17% would consider voting for a Keir Starmer-led Labour Party.
Nevertheless, a clear majority (59%) of 2019 Conservative voters would support Boris Johnson running for re-election as Prime Minister in the next General Election in 2024, while 17% would oppose.
At the same time, a plurality (37%) would support Boris Johnson being replaced as Leader of the Conservative Party before the next General Election, while 30% would oppose such a change. While the next General Election is likely four years away, the drop in Boris Johnson’s approval ratings indicate clear signs 2019 Tory voters are becoming concerned about the performance of the Government and the Party under his leadership.
If Boris Johnson were to be replaced as Leader of the Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak is the clear favourite to succeed him. Overall, 47% of 2019 Conservative voters favouring the Chancellor to replace Boris Johnson, compared to just 7% who would support Dominic Raab and Michael Gove taking over. Of those that view the current Government as incompetent, almost half (48%) would back Rishi Sunak if Boris Johnson were to be replaced, again highlighting that Rishi Sunak is viewed favourably by those who are more critical of Government.
The majority (53-63%) of 2019 Conservative voters approve of the Conservative Party’s position and performance in all six issues polled, except for immigration. The plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (40%) approve of the Party’s position and performance on immigration, while over a quarter (26%) disapprove. Notably, Nigel Farage has this year repeatedly criticised the Government for failing to act on immigration, particularly on crossings from France. This criticism from the right may explain this lower level of approval among Conservative voters. Altogether, the Tory lead over Labour may have diminished in recent weeks, but most Tory voters tend to approve of the Conservative Party’s position and performance in key policy areas.
Nevertheless, a plurality of the 2019 Conservative voters who currently think the Government is incompetent disapprove of the Party’s position and performance in all areas, except for the NHS, where the Conservative Party nets a +4% approval rating. The vast majority (64%) of those that think the Government is incompetent disapprove of the Conservative Party’s position and performance on the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrating a link between the fall in Conservative support and the handling of the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, pluralities within this sub-sample disapprove of the Party’s approach to issues of immigration (46%), Brexit negotiations (41%), and the economy (40%). On some issues, it is unclear which direction this disapproval lies. Does this subgroup want a tougher approach on as immigration and Brexit negotiations? Do they think the Government is spending too much and being fiscally irresponsible or spending too little and not supporting the economy sufficiently?
On coronavirus, the majority (57%) of 2019 Conservative voters think the Government should lean towards enacting more restrictive measures, while under a third (31%) think they should be less restrictive, despite concerns in Conservative publications that Boris Johnson has been too keen to impose restrictions on the UK. Even the majority (53%) of those that currently view the Government as incompetent support greater restrictions, which belies the idea that the fall in Tory support is due to coronavirus measures being too drastic.
Overall, the majority (51%) of Tory voters would support a second nationwide lockdown, with only 28% disapproving. There is a negligible difference in opinion on this issue between those that think the Government is competent and those that think it is incompetent, again highlighting that dissatisfaction with the Government’s performance is not directly correlated to any anger with the Government’s tendency to favour restrictive measures.
Such high support for a second nationwide lockdown is indicative of deep pessimism amongst 2019 Conservative voters when it comes to the timeline of the pandemic. Indeed, the majority (54%) think the worst is yet to come while just over a quarter (28%) think the worst is behind us.
Overall, there has been a significant drop in support for Boris Johnson among those that voted for his party less than a year ago. Nevertheless, a majority or plurality, of 2019 Conservative voters approve of the Conservative Party’s position and performance across most areas. Rishi Sunak’s approval rating remains high among Conservative voters, and the Chancellor is the clear favourite among party supporters to replace Boris Johnson. A clear majority of 2019 Conservative voters are concerned about the future of the coronavirus pandemic and most would support stricter measures.
A sizeable minority currently view the current Government as incompetent, disapprove of Boris Johnson’s performance, and are disapproving of the Conservative Party’s position and performance across key policy areas that extend beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Most of this group would consider voting for a Labour Party lead by Keir Starmer but also largely approve of Rishi Sunak and rank him as the favourite to replace Boris Johnson. Contrary to popular belief, many of these right-leaning voters that currently disapprove of the Government would support tighter coronavirus restrictions and a second national lockdown.
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.