Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we take an in-depth look at why the issue of the economy may be the Democrats’ biggest problem heading into this year’s Midterm Elections.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Americans’ views on the events of 1/6 one year on
  • Britons’ thoughts on additional booster jabs
  • Critical Race Theory as an election issue among Republican voters

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
(10 Jan):

Labour 39% (+1)
Conservative 35% (–)
Liberal Democrat 12% (+2)
Green 5% (–)
Scottish National Party 4% (-1)
Reform UK 4% (–)
Other 1% (-1)

Changes +/- 3 Jan

All Net Approval Ratings
(10 Jan):

Rishi Sunak: +17% (-3)
Keir Starmer: -3% (+4)
Boris Johnson: -19% (-1)

Changes +/- 3 Jan

Our latest voting intention poll this week finds the Labour Party leading by four points (+1), with 39% saying they would vote for Labour and 35% saying they would vote Conservative (no change) if there were to be an election tomorrow.

Labour’s lead is not what it was before the holiday period, when it peaked at eight points. But for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, there is little respite in these figures: The Government’s net competency rating has decreased by three points to -26% this week, and the Prime Minister’s net approval rating currently stands at -19% (-1).

It is important to note that these figures reflect public opinion before the latest reports of further Downing Street parties in contravention of coronavirus rules emerged. This latest crisis, which has even led cabinet ministers and MPs from the Prime Minister’s own party to call on him to apologise and issue an explanatory statement, will hardly have helped public views of Johnson. Amidst this situation, the question of how many missteps will be too many for Johnson is again rearing its head.

In December 2021, following revelations about Christmas parties held at Downing Street, 60% of Britons overall and 53% of 2019 Conservative voters said they would support Boris Johnson being replaced as Leader of the Conservative Party. When asked on Monday whom among the Conservative Party they would like to see succeed Johnson as Prime Minister, Britons overall (27%) and 2019 Conservative voters in particular (38%) appeared to have a preference: Rishi Sunak.

In fact, 38% (+2) of Britons polled on Monday thought that Rishi Sunak would be the better Prime Minister for the UK at this moment, compared to 29% (-1) who thought Boris Johnson—the highest proportion to select Sunak we have recorded to date. As Chancellor, Sunak currently enjoys a +17% net approval rating, which rises to +55% among 2019 Conservative voters. Evidently, the prominent role Sunak has played throughout the pandemic, together with his adoption of popular measures such as the furlough scheme, continue to boost public support for him.

But Sunak is not the only Conservative MP rumoured to be in the race to succeed Johnson. Many believe that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also has her eyes on the top job. At least with the electorate, however, Truss’ support base is significantly weaker than Sunak’s. 9% of Britons overall and 12% of 2019 Conservative voters say they would most prefer for Truss to replace Johnson and become Prime Minister. Her net approval rating, standing at -7% overall and at +22% among Conservative voters, is also less impressive than Sunak’s.

To be fair to Truss, she has had much less opportunity to attract public attention than the Chancellor. Having only taken over as Foreign Secretary from Dominic Raab in September 2021, Truss has been in her current office for barely four months. In addition, heading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is arguably a less prominent job than heading the Treasury, with public awareness of her recent actions and policy stances likely much lower compared to Sunak.

On the question of who should succeed Boris Johnson, no other potential candidate garners more than 10% of 2019 Conservative voters’ responses. A further 19% of Conservative voters—and 30% of the public overall—say they don’t know who they would prefer to replace Johnson from the Conservative Party. For the time being, the race to succeed Johnson continues to take place behind closed doors. Without a clear successor that MPs and the public at large are willing to rally behind, however, Johnson may just be able to soldier on.

Chart of the Week

One year on, how do Americans view the events of 1/6?

Speaking at the US Capitol to mark one year since Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in January 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris likened the historic weight of this event to other seminal moments such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

The American public largely disagrees with this comparison. Overall, 50% of Americans disagree that 1/6 should be viewed as comparable to 9/11. 29% conversely agree. A partisan division in views is visible: Whereas 76% of 2020 Trump voters disagree that 1/6 should be considered comparable to 9/11, a much smaller 30% of 2020 Biden voters disagree. In fact, a plurality of 47% of Biden voters do agree with the comparison. Nevertheless, the comparison is one Democrats would be wise to avoid further.

Some even take the view that the Democrats are using the events of 1/6 for their own political ends. 81% of 2020 Trump voters agree that Democratic politicians are using January 6th to draw attention away from their own policy failures elsewhere, a result that is not at all surprising. What is notable, however, is that a fifth (20%) of 2020 Biden voters also agree.

The commemorative events of the past week have certainly also drawn negative attention to Donald Trump. Perhaps partly as a result thereof, Biden has now overtaken Trump again in our latest US voting intention poll, though only by a narrow margin of 43% to 41%. In any case, Trump will not be on the ballot in the Midterm Elections in November 2022, which will be a referendum on the Biden Administration—and the President’s net approval rating, currently at -5%, remains in negative territory.

How the storming of the Capitol building is remembered and talked about is therefore far from straightforward and will require a more nuanced and forward-looking position.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: If a General Election were to take place in the next six months, 44% of 2019 Conservative voters and 43% of 2019 Labour voters think their respective preferred party winning a majority would be the most likely outcome. In July 2021, by contrast, 72% of 2019 Conservative voters thought a Conservative Party majority was the most likely outcome, while 45% of 2019 Labour voters thought a Labour Party majority was.

Great Britain: 39% of Britons think it is likely that Scottish independence will occur in the next five years, compared to 26% who think this prospect is unlikely. Voters’ preferences in the matter appear to influence their assessments of the situation: Among those who think Scotland should be an independent country, 67% think it is likely that Scottish independence will occur in the next five years. Among those who think Scotland should not be an independent country, by contrast, only 24% think Scottish independence is likely to occur in the next five years.

Great Britain: 16-to-25-year-olds in England are divided on the value of the education they are currently receiving. While 49% take the optimistic view that the education they are receiving is preparing them well for life, 42% are more pessimistic and think the education they are receiving is not preparing them well for life.

United States: Even with rife disagreement over the 2020 Presidential Election and its results, 68% of Americans—including 82% of 2020 Trump voters and 57% of 2020 Biden voters—agree that elections in the United States could be more secure and transparent. Only 8% of Trump voters and 14% of Biden voters conversely disagree. As one possible step to achieve more secure and transparent elections, 77% of Trump voters and, perhaps surprisingly to some, 50% of Biden voters would support the introduction of mandatory voter ID laws for all national and statewide elections.

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

US Midterm Elections 2022: Why the Economy Will Likely Be Democrats’ Biggest Problem

As we head into 2022 and look towards the US Midterm Elections, set to be held in November, the importance of the economy as an election issue is undeniable. For American voters across the political spectrum, the economy is by far the most common issue they say will determine how they will vote in the Midterm Elections. Overall, 56%—including 66% of 2020 Trump voters and 51% of 2020 Biden voters—say the economy is the issue that is most likely to determine how they will vote, 18 points ahead of the second most important issue, the coronavirus pandemic (38%).

For the Biden Administration, the electorate’s focus on the economy spells trouble. In our latest poll, 44% of Americans disapprove of the Administration’s performance on the economy, against 35% who approve. While this net approval rating of -9% has increased somewhat compared to mid-November, when it stood at -16%, there is little consolation in this improvement.

Indeed, there is a palpable sense that a Republican alternative would have handled the economy better. 46% of Americans overall think that Joe Biden has handled the economy worse than Donald Trump, compared to 32% who think he has handled it better. While such negative views of Biden here are driven largely by 2020 Trump voters themselves, a non-negligible 14% of Biden’s voters think he has handled the economy worse than Trump, and a further 19% think he has handled it neither better nor worse. Altogether, therefore, a notable third (33%) of Biden’s own voters are unconvinced the President they helped elect has delivered better economic policies than his predecessor.

If the disappointment of some of these voters translates into abstention—or possibly even a vote for the Republican Party—in November 2022, the Democrats’ chances of maintaining their (already fragile) majorities in Congress may sink further.

In fact, 42% of Americans say they trust the Republican Party most on the economy, compared to 37% who trust the Democratic Party most. These results are largely driven by voters registered with the Republican Party, but independent voters also tend to trust the Republican Party (32%) more than the Democratic Party (21%) on the economy.

These are difficult starting conditions for the Democratic Party. In times of economic prosperity, or at least economic security, voters may view such differences between parties in perceived competence to manage the economy as more forgivable. Given the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, however, they are a serious stumbling block for Biden and his Administration.

The President’s defenders may try to point to indicators painting a rosy picture of the US economy at the end of 2021. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9% and jobless claims registered in the last week of the year were close to their lowest level in 50 years. Some also point to optimistic forecasts for 2022: The Federal Reserve predicts a 4% GDP growth rate. In the decade preceding the pandemic, US GDP growth peaked at 3.1% in 2015.

In a speech last week, Biden himself tried to paint such a picture of success: “Record job creation. Record unemployment declines. Record increases in the people in the labour force. I would argue the Biden economic plan is working, and it’s getting America back to work, back on its feet.”

Yet, such claims are disingenuous, only representing a surface-level truth.

Unemployment may be falling, but labour force participation, currently at 61.9%, still remains 1.5 percentage points below its pre-pandemic level of 63.4% recorded in February 2020, meaning that about 2.3 million American have left the workforce and are not looking for a new job. Moreover, while average hourly earnings over the past 12 months increased by 4.7% according to the latest figures published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this increase was still outpaced by a 7% inflation rate in December.

More in line with these latter figures than the outlook presented by advocates of the Biden Administration, voters’ expectations regarding the US economy are marked by pessimism. A plurality (43%) thinks the US economy in general is likely to worsen in the next three months. More specifically, 36% think unemployment, 58% think inflation, and 62% think national debt will worsen over the same period of time.

Comments by Biden that the US has now reached “the peak of the crisis” and by his Press Secretary Jen Psaki that consumer prices are on “a good trajectory and [moving] in a good direction” and that “inflation will ease over time” appear to resonate little with voters.

Assertions made earlier in the year by Psaki that the impact of inflation would be “temporary, transitory” also ring hollow now, so much so that 56% of Americans agree with a statement asserting that the Government and the Treasury have lost control over inflation. Similarly alarming, at a personal level, 46% are concerned about their income for the next year, and 51% are concerned about their expenses. The Administration’s current approach to communicating with voters on economic matters has thus proved little reassuring to date.

With feelings of economic insecurity so widespread, dissatisfaction with Biden’s performance on the economy and public perceptions of the Republican Party as the more competent manager of the economy risk to threaten Democrats’ hold on Congress. Republicans across the country will undoubtedly adopt the economy—and inflation in particular—as key talking points throughout their campaigns.

Ambitious legislative projects such as the Build Back Better Act, which entails significant Government spending that could aggravate inflationary pressures, provide Republicans with additional leverage. In a press briefing in November 2021, Psaki continued to assert that “​​No economist out there is projecting that [the Build Back Better Act] will have a negative impact on inflation”—a claim that is demonstrably wrong, with even some economists who are supportive of the White House’s agenda saying there would likely be inflationary effects, were it to be enacted. And with 53% of Americans already thinking that the Government is spending too much, added concerns about consumer price increases among the electorate make attacking the Build Back Better Act and Biden’s broader agenda on grounds of financial unsustainability an easy target for Republicans.

So what are Democrats to do? Rather than simply presenting voters with an economic picture that does not correspond to voters’ own experiences, Democrats need to be more vocal in recognising—publicly—that the economic woes the US is experiencing are significant and potentially enduring. By refusing to accept the gravity of the present situation, Democrats risk giving the impression that they are dismissive of voters’ concerns. In a race as crucial as the Midterms for the Democrats’ hold on power, such an unwillingness to recognise existing problems and take voters’ concerns seriously will be fatal for the Democratic Party.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Covid: No need for a fourth jab yet, say UK advisers
BBC | 8 January 2022

Our take: According to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), booster doses continue to provide high protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Protection against hospitalisation remains at about 90% for people aged 65 and above three months after getting a booster dose. According to the JCVI, a fourth jab is thus not yet necessary. Should it be needed in the future, however, public support will likely be forthcoming. Three-quarters (75%) of Britons who have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine so far would be willing to receive a new dose of vaccination every six months for the next few years if the UK Government recommends it, compared to just 12% who say they would be unwilling. The European Medicines Agency, however, now warns of such a strategy reliant on repeated boosters, as it hypothetically poses the risk of overloading—and thereby ultimately weakening—people’s immune systems.

GOP sees ‘huge red wave’ potential by targeting critical race theory
Politico | 5 January 2022

Our take: Critical Race Theory is set to become a key campaign topic for Republican candidates in the upcoming year. Legislators in at least a dozen Republican-controlled states such as Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio are planning to push legislation seeking to halt the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools and to give parents a greater say in what their kids are taught in school. The issue may indeed allow candidates to galvanise support among Republican voters. Among 2020 Trump voters who are at least somewhat aware of Critical Race Theory and its tenets, 66% oppose Critical Race Theory being taught in public schools, with 55% opposing strongly. For nearly half (49%) of 2020 Trump voters, this opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools goes so far that they would support an outright ban. Among 2020 Biden voters, on the other hand, only 10% oppose Critical Race Theory being taught in public schools.

R&WS in the Media

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

Why Starmer, not Johnson, could fall in 2022
Unherd | 5 January 2022

Keir Starmer issues a desperate plea to Red Wall voters to ‘take another look at Labour’ and argues the party HAS changed since 2019 as he uses New Year speech to insist he would ‘make Brexit work’ as PM
MailOnline | 4 January 2022

2024 Is Donald Trump’s Election to Lose, Says Lindsey Graham
Newsweek | 30 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. Highest net approval rating we have recorded for Starmer since May 2021. (10 Jan): (see full tweet)
  2. Which party do Britons trust the most to manage the economy? (7 Jan): (see full tweet)
  3. Among Britons who say they don’t know how they would vote in a General Election, for which parties could they see themselves voting? (6 Jan): (see full tweet)
  4. Starmer leads over Johnson for better PM for the third time we have recorded. (10 Jan): (see full tweet)
  5. Is the UK Government currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic? (10 Jan): (see full tweet)

Have a question or want to know more about our research? Get in touch! Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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