Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! Today, in Magnified’s first Different Lens, our guest authors Professor Anand Menon and Dr Alan Wager from our partners UK in a Changing Europe take an in-depth look at why reigniting old debates about Brexit is unlikely to help the Prime Minister improve his (consistently negative) net approval rating.

This week’s Magnified also covers:

  • Britons’ views on international travel in light of the Omicron variant
  • Taiwanese respondents’ cultural self-identification
  • Americans’ views on the number of coronavirus fatalities in the US

If you would like to find out more about how Redfield & Wilton Strategies can help your organisation succeed through polling and strategic advice, click here.

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(8 Dec):

Labour 38% (+2)
Conservative 34% (-4)
Liberal Democrat 11% (+2)
Green 6% (–)
Reform UK 5% (+1)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Other 1% (-1)

Changes +/- 6 Dec

All Net Approval Ratings
(6 Dec):

Rishi Sunak: +17% (+3)
Boris Johnson: -10% (–)
Keir Starmer: -10% (-1)

Changes +/- 29 Nov

Our snap Voting Intention poll conducted yesterday gives the Labour Party a four-point lead over the Conservatives, with 38% (+2) of voters saying they would vote for the Labour Party if an election were to be held tomorrow—the third Labour lead in our polling this year and the largest lead held by Labour in our polling to date.

The data from our snap poll firmly suggests that the latest controversy over an alleged party (or perhaps alleged parties) held in Downing Street last year amidst coronavirus restrictions has cut through to the public. More than three quarters of members of the public (78%) yesterday said they had heard or read a significant amount or a fair amount about this alleged party.

Altogether, an overwhelming 63% of respondents say that the Prime Minister should resign if the party and its alleged details are confirmed. And the public appears unlikely to accept the Metropolitan Police’s decision not to further investigate the allegations. With 69% saying there should be an investigation, there is a clear public demand for the truth of what exactly happened last year in Downing Street.

Yet, it is not just this latest scandal that threatens this Government. While this lead is a significant change from our Monday tracker poll, which had found the Conservatives leading narrowly by two points, it must be noted that, in that poll, conducted before the developments of this week, the Government’s net competency rating stood at -19% (-1) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating was at -10% (–), among the highest level of disapproval that we have seen for the Prime Minister.

As we have argued before, following the Owen Paterson scandal that precipitated the other two Labour leads in our polling this year, the Conservative Party’s problems are deeper, including not only the further continuation of the coronavirus pandemic—despite initial hopes that the vaccines would definitively end the pandemic—but also, more glaringly, a lack of common understanding of what the Conservative Party stands for post-Brexit.

As our guest authors Professor Anand Menon and Dr Alan Wager write below, Brexit itself can no longer serve as a ‘wedge issue’ that allows the Government to galvanise support among Leave voters of different political orientations. ‘Getting (or keeping) Brexit done’ is not enough—how the Government performs now that Brexit is done is the crucial matter at hand.

Indeed, while our Brexit Tracker finds the public still split on Brexit, the salience of Brexit itself has clearly declined. When respondents to our Monday poll were asked to identify which three issues would most determine how they would vote in a General Election, Britain leaving the EU (18%) came in seventh place, significantly behind issues such as healthcare (53%), the economy (42%), and immigration (30%), for example.

This lack of direction by the Conservative Party has resulted in disapproval for the Government’s performance in critical policy areas, namely immigration (-32%), crime/policing (-11%), and the NHS (-7%). Meanwhile, areas of traditional or even recent strength of the Conservative Party, the economy (+1%) and the coronavirus pandemic (+1%), are hardly positive.

The Johnson Government has survived multiple controversies and scandals since the 2019 General Election, including violations of coronavirus restrictions and acts of corruption, and it may still survive this furor too, given its large majority. Yet, a Government cannot afford further public displays of bad behaviour when it is increasingly seen as directionless and incompetent on the issues that matter to voters. There must inevitably come a point when Members of Parliament say it is now enough.

Chart of the Week

How has Omicron impacted Britons’ views on international travel?

The emergence of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has significantly altered Britons’ attitudes towards international travel in the current situation. One month ago, public opinion was narrowly split on whether UK residents should be allowed to go on holiday abroad and on whether the UK should welcome international tourists. Regardless of their own travel desires, 41% of those polled thought UK residents should not be allowed to go on holiday abroad at that moment in time, compared to 40% who thought they should be allowed to do so. Similarly, 42% thought the UK should not welcome tourists from abroad this year (provided they follow all the necessary rules during travel and upon arrival), while an equal 42% thought the UK should welcome tourists from abroad under these conditions.

Now, however, views have turned in favour of a more restrictive approach. A majority of 54% now takes the view that regardless of their own travel desires, UK residents should not be allowed to go on holiday abroad at this moment, with less than a third (31%) of respondents now thinking they should be allowed to go. The same change in views is visible when it comes to inbound tourism: 55% now say the UK should not welcome tourists from abroad this year, even if these tourists follow all the necessary rules during travel and upon arrival, while 31% think the UK should welcome international tourists.

New measures such as mandatory pre-departure tests for inbound travellers and compulsory Day 2 PCR tests introduced to curb the Omicron variant—while provoking fury within the travel industry—thus appear largely in touch with public opinion.

In light of the pandemic, most have indeed abandoned plans to travel domestically or internationally. The latest inbound tourism estimates for the entire year 2021 published by Visit Britain suggest a 81% decline in the number of visitors coming to the UK compared to 2019 levels and a 31% decline compared to 2020. As travel prospects for 2022 look increasingly uncertain, the tourism industry will continue to be faced with a British public that views both inbound and outbound travel unfavourably.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, 60% of Britons are optimistic and think that in most important foreign policy areas, such as security or economic trade, the UK can align itself with both the US and the EU, not just one of the two. 19%, on the other hand, think the UK can only align itself with either the US or the EU on these issues and will therefore be forced to choose between the two.

Taiwan: Among 18-to-24-year-olds in Taiwan, 81% identify exclusively as Taiwanese, while 8% identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese. Among respondents aged 55 and above, by contrast, a notable 36% identify as both Taiwanese and Chinese, though a majority of 54% of this age group also exclusively identifies as Taiwanese.

United States: Among 2020 Joe Biden voters, 56% anticipate that Biden will be the Democratic Party’s nominee again in 2024, while 30% think someone else will be. Notably, though 53% of Biden’s own voters say they would prefer for him to again be the nominee, a significant 36% say they would prefer someone else to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024.

United States: Among 2020 Donald Trump voters, 64% expect Trump to be the Republican Party’s nominee again in 2024, compared to 27% who think the party will nominate someone else. While a strong majority of 69% would prefer for Trump to run again as the Republican nominee, a quarter (25%) of 2020 Trump voters would instead prefer for someone else to be the Republican Party’s nominee in 2024.

Hire Us: If you are a business, campaign, or research organisation looking to expand your understanding of public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has the tools to help. Get in touch to find out more.

Different Lens: In-Depth Analysis from Outside

Five years after the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has partnered with UK in a Changing Europe to monitor and analyse how this decision and its aftereffects continue to influence public opinion and the political landscape in the UK. Based on the first edition of this Brexit Tracker, Professor Anand Menon and Dr Alan Wager today explore what the politics of Brexit mean for the Government’s current strategy in Magnified’s first Different Lensa place for experts to show how our polling data contributes to a more in-depth understanding of their areas of expertise.

Can Boris Bank on Brexit?

By Professor Anand Menon and Dr Alan Wager, UK in a Changing Europe

Boris Johnson is now experiencing one of the most difficult periods of his Premiership. This challenge is reflected in a sustained dip in Conservative headline vote intention and in personal approval of the Prime Minister.

This political turbulence has very little directly to do with Brexit. Indeed, the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol—that looked likely to lead to the triggering of Article 16—has instead fallen away from the headlines. For the first time since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, there may be no UK-EU Christmas drama on our screens.

Yet, it might be tempting for the Prime Minister to think of Brexit as a possible solution to his ratings issues. After all, it was ‘getting Brexit done’ that helped tie together the electoral coalition that won him the General Election two years ago this week. Johnson himself has reportedly talked of a ‘keep Brexit done’ narrative at the next election.

He would be wise to resist that temptation, however. The new Redfield & Wilton Strategies/UK in a Changing Europe Brexit Tracker covers what voters think about the impact of Brexit to date, as well as their expectations for the future. It contains some clues as to why reigniting the Brexit rows of old is likely to bring diminishing returns for the Prime Minister.

First, in some areas there are signs that negative Brexit impacts have been felt in ways that partly cross the Brexit divide. Over half of voters feel the supply of food and goods (56%) and the cost of living (51%) have been negatively impacted by Brexit. Some 35% of Leave voters feel that the cost of living has been negatively affected by leaving the EU, and 40% say the same of the supply of goods. If these problems get more acute over the winter, a public fight over the Northern Ireland Protocol may not have the intended rallying effect.

Moreover, Labour is making some slow (and Starmer might claim steady) progress when it comes to weaponising Brexit itself. The notion of ‘making Brexit work’ could conceivably have some appeal to voters experiencing a cost-of-living crisis that they link—however indirectly—with Brexit. And, confronted with a Prime Minister who is wont to accuse him of being a ‘Remoaner,’ the Leader of the Opposition may be encouraged to find that only one in five Leave voters (21%) think that Labour’s policy is to re-join the European Union.

Voters still wear their Brexit allegiances heavily. Our research shows voters are more likely to say they think of themselves as a Leave or a Remain voter rather than identify with a party label. However, such lingering attachments do not translate into or stem from a belief that the Brexit battles of old are still live. Just one in four (25%) Remain voters believe that the UK re-joining the EU in the next ten years is at all likely, and nearly twice as many (47%) reckon it is unlikely.

These facts make ‘keeping Brexit done’ a much harder electoral sell for the Conservative Party. Re-joining the EU is simply not a plausible political threat, and there is little sense that Labour will be forced into a more ‘extreme’ Brexit position.

Equally, the fact that the Brexit debate is much more technical than it was makes increasing its salience difficult. Just under half of Remain (42%) and Leave (43%) agree that the optimal solution to the border issue in Northern Ireland would be for there to be no checks on goods passing at any point between or within the United Kingdom and Ireland, while one in five Leavers (19%) and a slightly lower proportion of Remainers (15%) think the current arrangement—of checks on goods passing in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain—is best. But, leaving aside that the current arrangements were negotiated by the Prime Minister, this broad agreement gives some indication of the challenges in presenting Northern Ireland as a ‘wedge’ issue to excite a Leaver base.

As Sir John Curtice has noted elsewhere regarding the first results from our Brexit Tracker, voters are assessing the Government’s handling of Brexit and coronavirus in parallel with one another. It may be tempting for the Prime Minister to think that pandemic pressures could be alleviated by continuing his spat with the EU. However, our Brexit Tracker offers few indications that he will be able to bank on Brexit.

Anand Menon is a Professor of European Politics at Kings College, London, and a leading analyst of British and European politics. He is Director of UK in a Changing Europe.

Dr Alan Wager is a Research Associate at UK in a Changing Europe. He is a leading analyst of British party politics and Brexit.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

How Biden and Trump actually compare on coronavirus deaths
The Washington Post | 30 November 2021

Our take: By November, the US had recorded more deaths from coronavirus in 2021 than in all of 2020, despite the arrival of vaccines. On the political right, this statistic has led many to argue that Joe Biden has failed to deliver on his promise to get the virus under control. Indeed, 58% of Americans overall agree that Biden promised to bring the virus under control when he was a Presidential candidate—though 75% of 2020 Trump voters and 19% of 2020 Biden voters who agree with this premise think he has so far failed to deliver. But beyond the question of whether it is possible to attribute blame for all coronavirus deaths that have occurred during a President’s time in office directly to that President, public opinion shows the extent to which the latest fatality figures themselves have become politicised. 49% of 2020 Trump voters agree that more Americans have died from coronavirus under President Biden than under President Trump, while only 8% disagree. Among 2020 Biden voters, by contrast, 45% disagree, compared to 20% who agree.

U.S. invites Taiwan to its democracy summit; China angered
Reuters | 24 November 2021

Our take: Amidst rising tensions between the US and China over Taiwan’s status, President Joe Biden invited Taiwan to attend his Administration’s virtual Democracy Summit, set to begin today. While China, arguing that the summit is a tool for the US “to divide the world and serve its own interests,” firmly criticised the invitation, both Taiwanese and American voters are likely to take a significantly more positive view of Taiwan’s participation. For one, 58% in Taiwan support closer political relations between Taiwan and the US—something only 10% conversely oppose. In addition, 72% of Taiwanese respondents as well as 54% of Americans consider it important for Taiwan to be admitted as a member of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other international organisations. While an invitation to Biden’s Democracy Summit may not be as powerful a step as accession to an international organisation, it is nevertheless significant in that it allows Taiwan to progressively build its presence on the international stage outside of China’s shadow.

R&WS in the Media

Each week we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

Fury at Johnson Ramps Up Pressure on U.K. PM Over Covid Rules
Bloomberg | 8 December 2021

London Playbook: Hangover from hell — 4 new rules for us — 7 lockdown ‘parties’
Politico | 9 December 2021

Red Box: Plan B – for be quiet about the party
The Times | 9 December 2021

Are you a journalist needing a stat for your latest piece? We can be your resource—our polling covers hundreds of issues in multiple countries each week. If you are working on an article on a topical issue, chances are we have already asked the public about it. Get in touch and we’ll share our polling data with you!

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. Largest Labour lead we have recorded since 2019 GE. (8 Dec): (see full tweet)
  2. Do Britons think the Prime Minister should resign if it is confirmed that the Christmas Party in Downing Street took place at a time when restrictions forbade such gatherings?(8 Dec): (see full tweet)
  3. Joining/Staying Out of the EU Hypothetical GB Voting Intention (7 Dec): (see full tweet)
  4. Does the British public think the Metropolitan Police should investigate the Christmas Party held in Downing Street last year? (8 Dec): (see full tweet)
  5. What do Britons think is the current policy objective of the following parties regarding the UK’s relationship with the EU? (7 Dec): (see full tweet)

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