Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! Today, we take an in-depth look at how Britons’ reactions to the emergence of the Omicron variant confront the Government with several challenges, both in terms of public health and its own approval ratings.

This week’s Magnified also covers:

  • What Britons perceive political parties’ positions on UK-EU relations to be
  • American perspectives on the Biden Administration’s performance in different policy areas
  • The Taiwanese public’s thoughts on a closer economic relationship with China

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
(13 Dec):

Labour 37% (-1)
Conservative 32% (-2)
Liberal Democrat 11% (–)
Green 7% (+1)
Reform UK 7% (+2)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 8 Dec

All Net Approval Ratings
(13 Dec):

Rishi Sunak: +15% (-2)
Keir Starmer: -8% (+2)
Boris Johnson: -22% (-12)

Changes +/- 6 Dec

Our latest voting intention poll gives the Labour Party a five-point lead over the Conservatives, with 37% (-1) of voters saying they would vote for Labour if an election were to be held tomorrow. This result marks the largest lead for Labour since we began tracking voting intention following the 2019 General Election, as well as the lowest voting intention result we have recorded for the Conservative Party (32%).

Evidently, the Government is still reeling from the latest scandal surrounding alleged 2020 Downing Street Christmas parties, said to have taken place in violation of the coronavirus restrictions in place at the time. Following these allegations, the Government’s net competency rating has decreased by 10 points in the past week alone and now stands at -29%, the lowest rating we have recorded since we began tracking the question in August 2020.

Views of the Prime Minister have taken an even harder hit, with Boris Johnson’s net approval rating now at -22%—a 12-point decline compared to Monday last week and also the lowest net approval rating we have recorded for Johnson.

Even worse for Johnson, in comparison to Keir Starmer he is no longer seen as the better option. For the first time since we began asking this question in June 2020, Keir Starmer now (narrowly) leads over Boris Johnson as the one who would be the better Prime Minister for the UK at this moment, at 35% to 34%. A notable 31% say they don’t know, when presented with these two options.

Looking over time at Conservative approval, the trend is more worrisome for Johnson. In March 2021, when Johnson’s net approval rating was at its highest (+18%) this year, 72% of 2019 Conservative voters approved of his job performance, compared to 50% who do now. In addition, as many as 28% strongly approved in March—a figure that was more than twice as high then as it is now (13%).

Most significant of all these changes, just 47% of Conservative voters now say Boris Johnson would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom at this moment against the option of Rishi Sunak, who is chosen by 36% of those who voted Conservative in 2019. This latest result marks the first time that a plurality, rather than a majority, of Conservative voters say they would prefer Johnson over Sunak and that more than a third say they would prefer Sunak.

The only good news for Johnson and the Conservative Party writ large is that those Conservative voters who appear to have lost confidence for the time being are reluctant to switch sides completely and support Labour.

59% of 2019 Conservative voters now say they would vote Conservative in a General Election, a dramatic drop from 72% last Monday—but a sizable portion of this drop is due to many more Conservative voters saying they are undecided, now at 20%, compared to last week, then at 12%. The proportion who say they would now vote Labour, however, has not changed in number, staying at 8% across all three voting intention polls released in the last two weeks.

Dissatisfaction with the current Government accordingly does not (yet) translate into increased support for the Opposition among 2019 Conservative voters. There is thus a chance for the Government to win back its previous support, given that many former supporters appear reluctant to completely cut ties with the Party they voted for in 2019. There is also a chance that a conservative-leaning alternative could come into this vacuum, with our polling this week including the best voting intention result we have so far recorded for Reform UK, at 7%.

As we posited in last week’s edition of Magnified, there are only so many second (or third, or fourth) chances MPs and voters are going to give to the current Government. Even if the Prime Minister survives this latest furore, any further major blunder would very likely spell the end of his time in office.

Chart of the Week

What do Britons believe different parties’ stances on UK-EU relations to be?

With the United Kingdom no longer a member of the European Union, where each Party in Britain now stands regarding UK-EU relations is much more ambiguous than it was previously under the Remain-Leave dichotomy, reflecting the increased complexity of UK-EU relations.

Where the Conservative Party is concerned, 29% overall—including 40% of 2016 ‘Leave’ voters and 24% of 2016 ‘Remain’ voters—believe its objective is to maintain the status quo, though a similar proportion of 25% thinks the Conservatives’ objective is to seek more distant relations.

By contrast, Britons tend to view the Labour Party as somewhat more Europhile, with only 5% thinking the Party is seeking a more distant relationship. At the same time, only 16%—including 21% of ‘Leave’ voters and 12% of ‘Remain’ voters—think Labour wants to rejoin the EU. Instead, a plurality (28%) views Labour’s current policy objective to be a closer UK-EU relationship under the current legal framework.

The Scottish National Party stands out, with a third (32%) of Britons thinking its current policy objective is for the UK to rejoin the European Union. While our question specified the United Kingdom, many respondents likely interpreted the SNP’s stance with regard to Scotland specifically when answering this question.

High proportions of Britons also say they don’t know what each respective Party’s current policy objective is regarding the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union—partly a result of a lack of awareness of smaller political parties’ platforms.

This lack of clarity is, however, especially salient for the Liberal Democrats, the most demonstrably anti-Brexit Party at the last election with its platform ‘Stop Brexit.’ While the Liberal Democrats, in prioritising other issues for the time being, may be avoiding the difficult question of whether they now stand for rejoining or, instead, for a closer relationship, voters and the media will no doubt ask how the Party relates to its previous platform at the next General Election.

Not wanting to give up on rejoining the EU, some Liberal Democrats may welcome ambiguity when that time comes. Yet, ambiguity would be a mistake. 56% of respondents to our polling believe it is unlikely that the United Kingdom will apply to re-join the EU in the next ten years, and just 21% think it is likely. The Party would thus likely benefit from a more explicit closer relationship with the EU platform that demonstrates the Party recognises the reality that Brexit is done and wants to move forward.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: Among those Britons who have chosen not to receive a coronavirus vaccine, the two most common reasons given for this choice are a lack of trust in the safety of vaccines (41%) and a lack of belief in the efficacy of vaccines (40%). Among those who are vaccinated, however, these concerns are met with little sympathy: 70% are not sympathetic to those unwilling or hesitant to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and 69% agree with a statement suggesting that those who are unvaccinated pose a threat to those who are vaccinated—something with which only 11% disagree.

Great Britain: Whenever Britain faces a choice between aligning itself with the European Union or the United States on an issue, a plurality (36%) thinks it should generally align itself more with the EU. This figure is notably driven by 2016 ‘Remain’ voters, 54% of whom share this view. Among 2016 ‘Leave’ voters, on the other hand, the preferred position is neither alignment with the EU nor with the US—a plurality of 39% would instead support Britain taking an independent position.

Taiwan: While 67% of Taiwanese respondents see the People’s Republic of China as more of a threat than an ally to Taiwan, a plurality of 39% nevertheless supports closer economic relations between Taiwan and China—something 24% conversely oppose. Support for economic engagement is likely motivated by the belief—shared by a plurality of 40%—that Taiwan’s economic prosperity depends on close economic relations with China, a point of view with which 19% disagree.

United States: The coronavirus pandemic remains the only policy area in which the Joe Biden Administration elicits a positive net approval rating—though at +1%, it is now only marginally positive. Over the past month alone, this figure has dropped by seven points. In all other policy areas, Americans give the current Administration negative net approval ratings, ranging from -3% on the environment to -12% on the economy and -25% on immigration.

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.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Omicron: The New Variant Poses an Existential Challenge for the Government

Amidst the Government raising the UK’s alert level from three to four, indicating a high or rising level of transmission, and the first Omicron death being recorded in the UK, Boris Johnson has warned that ‘a tidal wave of Omicron is coming.’ Looking at official coronavirus case numbers highlights that the pandemic is still a fact of life in the UK. Many Britons, however, appear unwilling to let the new variant—or the virus in general—dominate and restrict their way of life further.

Feelings of safety in public spaces, for instance, have only marginally changed when comparing data from before and after the emergence of the Omicron variant. While 73% felt safe going food shopping in October, for instance, a nearly identical 71% feel safe doing so now. Similarly, the proportion of working Britons feeling safe going to work has also only declined by two points, from 63% to 61%.

In addition, 83% of Britons polled on Wednesday last week said they have not cancelled any plans specifically in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant in the past two weeks, while only 17% have. 81% of Britons also said they intended to have normal Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—the exact same proportion as answered in this way in mid-November. Though increased media attention over the past week may have changed these figures somewhat, it still appears that the emergence of the Omicron variant has, at least so far, not had a dramatic effect of diminishing Britons’ comfort in public spaces or social situations.

Even if Britons are changing their behaviour, their justification for doing so is merely to avoid having to cancel their Christmas plans—not out of fear of the virus itself. Last week’s poll found 54% of respondents saying they intended to limit their social contacts over the next few weeks in order to avoid having to cancel their Christmas and New Year’s Plans.

These figures are reflective of a wider sentiment that many Britons want normality to return: 43%, a plurality, agree with a statement asserting that they are fed up with coronavirus restrictions and believe everyone should get on with the rest of their lives—though a third (34%) continues to disagree.

Clearly, many people feel less threatened now—both by coronavirus in general and by the Omicron variant in particular—than they previously did. Especially paired with the sense of safety that vaccines provide, many live and adamantly want to live as they did before the pandemic.

To be sure, there is a recognition that previous measures were necessary sacrifices. 61%, for instance, think that lockdowns and strict coronavirus restrictions such as restaurant and school closures issued during the pandemic saved the United Kingdom from more harm, in lives lost and economic damage, than they caused. Conversely, a much lower 24% of respondents think lockdowns and strict coronavirus restrictions caused the United Kingdom more harm, in lives lost and economic damage, than they saved.

Despite this recognition, however, Britons’ tolerance for the re-imposition of such measures is declining. In early September, for instance, 60% supported and only 23% opposed the prospect of another lockdown, should coronavirus cases increase to significant levels again. When asked now (though without reference to case numbers), public opinion is significantly more split: While 40% would support another lockdown in the UK, a virtually equal 39% would oppose.

Earlier this year, all restrictions came with a clear indication that they would be temporary, with a firm idea of how they would end—namely through the rollout of the vaccination programme. Given that previous increases of coronavirus infections after the vaccine rollout in July and in October took place without any reintroduction of restrictions, the Government will have a much harder time justifying the reintroduction of rules to the public without voters losing confidence in both the vaccines and the credibility of the Government.

Hence, the substantive measures introduced thus far to combat the emergence of the Omicron variant have been centred on vaccines and booster jabs only, without any major restrictions on the vaccinated. Yet, with the credibility of the Government also weakened by the numerous scandals it has recently had to confront, the public still appears less likely to continue to see it as a competent manager of the pandemic.

The tide is indeed turning. While net approval of the Government’s performance on the pandemic still stood at +9% in September, it has now declined to -5%. Half (49%, up from 42% in November) now think the Government is not taking the right measures to address the pandemic, compared to 33% who think it is (down from 40% in November). More precisely, the introduction of vaccine passports has resulted in 43% now saying the current level of restrictions are about right (down from 50% in November) and 16% saying they are too restrictive (up from 10% in November).

Approval of the Government’s handling of the pandemic has thus far been closely correlated with overall approval of the Government and, by extension, voting intention. Previously, the Government’s management of the pandemic was mostly a positive factor—sometimes the lone positive area of approval. With the exception of one instance in July, approval of the Government’s performance on the pandemic had consistently been higher than disapproval, allowing for consistent Conservative Party leads throughout this year, including significant leads during what was dubbed the ‘vaccine bounce.’

The Prime Minister may be relieved that attention is being diverted from the scandal of last year’s parties, but the Omicron variant is hardly a desirable deflection. This latest crisis threatens one of the most fundamental drivers of public support for his Government in the past year, and the Prime Minister will therefore have to be careful.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Working from home: ‘We get more done in the office’
BBC | 13 December 2021

Our take: Amidst the Government’s recommendation to increase remote work where possible to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, some bosses have voiced dissatisfaction with the latest guidance, claiming employee productivity is higher in the office than at home. Employees themselves, however, decidedly disagree: 61% of Britons who have worked from home at some point during the coronavirus pandemic say that doing so has been more productive for them than working in an office, and only 6% say working from home has been less productive for them. In fact, companies pushing their employees to come back to the office full time is likely to cause some friction: Among those who are currently working from home, as many as 87% intend to continue to do so after the pandemic is over, either full time or part time.

UK needs mini-furlough if Omicron hits economy, says IMF
The Guardian | 14 December 2021

Our take: The International Monetary Fund has advised Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to draw up contingency plans for a mini-furlough to avoid mass unemployment and large-scale business failures, should the Omicron variant oblige the Government to close parts of the economy. Public views on the UK’s previous furlough scheme, which ended in September 2021, were favourable. In polling conducted over the summer, as many as 69% agreed that the furlough scheme had been a success, compared to only 8% who disagreed. At the same time, Britons were split on whether the furlough scheme had spent too much Government money, with 36% agreeing and 31% disagreeing.

R&WS in the Media

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

How much trouble is Boris Johnson in?
Spectator | 9 December 2021

Exclusive polling: Britons back end to oil and gas exploration
The New Statesman | 10 December 2021

New Poll Shows Donald Trump Beating Joe Biden by 4 Points in 2024 Matchup
Newsweek | 10 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. New Largest Labour lead that we’ve recorded. (13 Dec): (see full tweet)
  2. New lowest Net Approval Rating that we’ve recorded for Johnson. (13 Dec): (see full tweet)
  3. Home Secretary Priti Patel Approval Rating (14 Dec): (see full tweet)
  4. Is the UK Government currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic? (14 Dec): (see full tweet)
  5. Does the British public currently intend to have normal Christmas and New Year’s celebrations this year? (14 Dec): (see full tweet)

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