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 pushing for the introduction of a Central Bank Digital Currency in the UK would be a strategic error and a missed opportunity to position the UK as an international leader in cryptocurrency governance.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ rising optimism amid falling omicron cases
  • Americans’ thoughts on ‘woke’ practices in the US
  • The British public’s thoughts on the BBC’s funding model

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
(17 Jan):

Labour 43% (+4)
Conservative 30% (-5)
Liberal Democrat 9% (-3)
Green 7% (+2)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 4% (–)
Other 3% (+2)

Changes +/- 10 Jan

All Net Approval Ratings
(17 Jan):

Rishi Sunak: +18% (+1)
Keir Starmer: 0% (+3)
Boris Johnson: -31% (-12)

Changes +/- 10 Jan

Our latest voting intention poll this week finds the Labour Party leading by 13%, a nine-point increase to their lead over the Conservatives in last week’s poll. This result not only marks Labour’s largest lead since we began tracking voting intention following the 2019 General Election but also the largest lead we have recorded for any party since May 2020.

As they say, a week is a long time in politics. And in light of unabating criticism surrounding the latest Downing Street party scandal and the Prime Minister’s public apology, the past seven days may well have felt interminable for Boris Johnson. For one, his Government’s net competency rating has nosedived to -37%, declining by 11 points since last week to the lowest rating we have recorded since we began tracking this question in August 2020. Further, the Prime Minister’s own net approval rating fell even more sharply, plummeting 12 points and now standing at -31%—the lowest rating we have ever recorded for him.

As if these damning ratings were not enough, Johnson’s fall appears to be directly benefiting Keir Starmer when voters compare the two party leaders: Johnson no longer leads over Starmer on any of the leadership characteristics on which we poll. For the first time we have recorded, Starmer now leads over Johnson when it comes to best embodying the descriptions ‘can build a strong economy’ (36% to 33%) and ‘can tackle the coronavirus pandemic’ (35% to 31%).

But, significant though they are, are these recent changes at all to Starmer’s credit? To be sure, we have recorded Starmer’s highest net approval rating since April 2021 this week. At 0%, however, this rating is hardly an impressive one. In fact, it epitomises what could become both a blessing and a curse for Starmer: his thoroughly inoffensive nature.

Jeremy Corbyn’s polarising personality was one of the key factors that allowed Theresa May to hang on to power even after the Conservatives lost their overall majority in the 2017 General Election. Corbyn was perceived as so extreme that he galvanised not only fervent support in some circles but notably also fervent opposition—so much so that the fear of a Corbyn-led Government helped prop up a struggling Conservative one for nearly two years until the existential threat brought on by the Brexit Party forced Theresa May to resign.

To his benefit, Starmer does not at all produce the same effect as Corbyn. While we suggested in last week’s issue of Magnified that the lack of a clear successor to Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party may just allow the Prime Minister to soldier on, it is conversely this lack of a distinctive persona in Keir Starmer that is making life difficult for Boris Johnson: his MPs and the public at large can find little to which they could rally around Johnson in opposition.

In the current situation, this reality could turn out to become Labour’s trump card. Many may find a Government led by a somewhat nondescript but principled Starmer (that is, someone ‘normal’ and ‘boring’) more appealing than a Government led by a flamboyant but highly unreliable Johnson.

While we are wary of facile comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom, we note that this strategy proved somewhat successful across the other side of the Atlantic in 2020. Biden’s victory in the Presidential Election owed itself, in large part, to his rather anonymous campaign presence which allowed Donald Trump to dig himself deeper into trouble—though, it must be caveated, his victory was slim, relying on less than 100,000 votes across three States. Our polling in the United States regularly found more than half of Biden voters saying they were voting for him because of their opposition to Donald Trump, not because of their support for Biden.

Even so, recent political history in both the US and the UK demonstrates the longer term limits of this strategy. ‘Not being Donald Trump’ is proving far from enough for Joe Biden to govern with popular support in the same way that ‘not being Jeremy Corbyn’ was never going to be enough for Theresa May to survive on its own. ‘Not being Boris Johnson’ may help Keir Starmer for the time being, and he may just win the next General Election on that basis, but a platform defined by what it is not will hardly do Starmer and the Labour Party any favours in the long run.

Chart of the Week

Optimism Amid Omicron Fall

Amid falling Omicron cases and after having experienced no major rise in deaths, optimism in the United Kingdom that the ‘worst is behind us’ regarding the coronavirus pandemic is correspondingly sharply on the rise, reaching its highest level since August 2021.

50% now believe the worst is behind us, a stark difference from the 25% who said so only a month ago as Omicron cases surged and it was still uncertain whether the encouraging data from South Africa would also replicate itself here.

Life, it appears, is once again back to ‘normal’ in the United Kingdom. The further easing of restrictions announced by the Government certainly corresponds with the broader public’s views on the pandemic at large. Yet, as indicated by our experience in asking this question since the summer of 2020—when we had no idea how long this question would prove to be useful—it always does feel a bit uneasy to assert that the worst is truly behind us.

Our Global Data

England: In England, the three issues that 16-to-25-year-olds consider to be the most important in British politics today are healthcare (55%), coronavirus restrictions (44%), and education (44%). In comparison, issues such as the economy (29%) or immigration (15%) rank noticeably lower as pressing issues in British politics from the viewpoint of 16-to-25-year-olds.

Great Britain: When Britons are asked to indicate to what extent, on a scale of 0 to 5, they feel angry when thinking about the future of the United Kingdom, 17% now rate their anger at a 5. This result marks a notable seven-point increase compared to just over one month ago: On 6 December 2021—before news of Downing Street Christmas parties and summer drinks became public—only 10% rated their anger at a 5.

United States: 41% of Americans agree ‘woke’ practices have gone too far, compared to 16% who disagree. Notably, even a plurality (34%) of those who consider themselves to be ‘woke’—28% of Americans polled—agree that ‘woke’ practices have gone too far. Among those who do not consider themselves to be ‘woke,’ agreement rises to 62%.

United States: While 39% of Americans generally trust the Democratic Party most on the issue of housing, compared to 32% who most trust the Republicans, the Biden Administration’s current net approval rating on housing stands at -3%. In addition, 56% expect the affordability of housing to worsen in the next three months, compared to just 12% who think it will improve.

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

A version of the following article was also published online by The Telegraph.

Cryptocurrency: The UK Does Not Want or Need a Central Bank Digital Currency

recent report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, published following a four-month inquiry into the potential introduction of a CBDC in the UK, arrives at a definitive conclusion: ‘We have yet to hear a convincing case for why the UK needs a retail Central Bank Digital Currency.’

As pollsters who have tracked global public sentiment on cryptocurrencies and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) in particular, we could not agree more with this conclusion. The Government has a unique chance to position the UK as a world leader in responsible crypto usage; a CBDC will not do that.

Substantial public support is a requirement for the success of a ‘retail’ CBDC intended to be used by citizens for everyday transactions. Yet, as we reported to the Committee’s inquiry, such public support is profoundly absent—and there are significant reasons to doubt whether it will ever emerge.

Only 27% of Britons in our polling submitted as evidence said they would support the introduction of a CBDC in the UK. Further, we have found merely 10% say it is likely they would own and use a CBDC, compared to 65% who say it is unlikely that they would. These numbers hardly provide a solid foundation for such existential monetary reform. The Treasury and the Bank of England should not mistake the growing enthusiasm for cryptocurrency use in the UK as support for a Central Bank Digital Currency.

The Committee’s report also rightfully recognises the need to be ‘sceptical that a UK CBDC payments system would provide significant advantages to consumers over the existing payments system.’ And indeed, Britons currently see little need for a CBDC. For one, trust in high street banks is significant, with 86% of respondents having ‘a lot’ or ‘a moderate amount’ of trust in these institutions. Further, 97% of Britons polled feel safe having their money stored in a bank account, and 92% find it easy to use their bank account(s) and its services, including 59% who find it very easy.

With 57% of respondents saying they don’t know for what purpose they would use a CBDC, the Committee may very well be correct in its suggestion that a CBDC could be ‘a solution in search of a problem.’

If created, a UK CBDC would dramatically change the Bank of England’s involvement in the everyday use of British money and potentially bring it into a head-on collision with controversial debates around citizens’ privacy. Privacy is therefore a major source of apprehension for the public.

As many as a third of Britons (32%) think the Bank of England would issue a CBDC mainly to monitor how they use their money, while a quarter (23%) suspect the Bank’s intention is to limit what they could do with their money. The public less frequently sees more positive reasons, such as pursuing a global leadership position in cryptocurrency (21%), encouraging innovation (19%), and making money more accessible to British citizens (12%) as significant drivers for the Bank of England in exploring this venture.

And even supposing the Bank of England could guarantee against State intrusions into citizens’ privacy and use of money, a centralised CBDC ledger could still prove susceptible to hacks and cyberattacks—a threat that the public readily intuits, with 56% seeing it as one of the main risks of the Bank of England introducing a CBDC in the UK.

The Bank of England would need to constantly maintain the highest possible level of advanced technology to protect this new critical infrastructure from hostile actors and systemic failure. However, there is deep public scepticism regarding the Government’s ability to develop such innovative proprietary software at scale. 56% of Britons disagree that the Government is capable of and can be trusted to develop new apps and other tech products quickly and effectively—an opinion that is no doubt informed by the public’s recent experience with ‘Track & Trace,’ which is widely viewed as a costly failure. By consequence, only 7% say they trust the Government more to be a source of innovation, compared to 53% who trust the private sector more.

The greatest risk, therefore, is for the UK Government to devote significant attention and massive expenditure to developing a product that, by the time it is finally ready for public use in the second half of this decade, will have been outpaced by private sector innovation and rendered obsolete.

A CBDC needs a public that believes and trusts in it in order to work. As our polling shows, the British public does neither. Why, then, is the UK pursuing a CBDC? The Treasury and the Bank of England’s motive for pursuing this project increasingly seems to stem from the mere fact that other countries, such as China, are exploring CBDCs. In other words, Fear of Missing Out.

Is this behaviour what the public should come to expect from its Government in post-Brexit Britain—to be a follower, not a leader?

The Treasury and the Bank of England should now start to look at other options that seek to harness the power of the multi trillion-dollar cryptocurrency sector rather than seek to control and stifle it.

With its reacquired ability to shape its own financial regulatory environment post-Brexit, the United Kingdom has the enviable freedom to stake an independent position in the field of cryptocurrency governance. In comparison to the potential development of a CBDC, which garners ambiguous support, legislation that would provide a legal framework for cryptocurrency use in the UK sees support that outnumbers opposition 5 to 1. In such a more favourable legal and regulatory environment, the Bank of England could and should maintain oversight of the ledgers of private stablecoin issuers, guaranteeing financial standards and helping to position the UK at the centre of the new emerging Web 3.0.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

UK economy above pre-Covid levels in November
BBC | 15 January 2022

Our take: Following stronger-than-expected economic growth, the UK economy surpassed pre-pandemic levels for the first time in November 2021, according to the latest data published by the Office for National Statistics. While there is concern that growth slowed again following the spread of the Omicron variant and the introduction of Plan B measures, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Monday defended the Government’s response, arguing that because the UK stuck to Plan B, it is now ‘the most open economy in Europe.’ This optimistic tenor does not fully resonate with Britons and their outlook for their personal financial situation, however. While 41% think their financial situation is likely to stay the same over the next three months, 32% expect theirs to worsen, compared to just 16% who expect theirs to improve. The Government still must do more to convince voters that the UK’s economy—and their economic situation—are bound for better days.

BBC licence fee to be abolished in 2027, suggests culture minister
Financial Times | 17 January 2022

Our take: Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has suggested that the Government plans to freeze the price of TV licences until 2024 and to ultimately abolish the BBC licence fee by 2027. Following this date, the BBC will have to negotiate an entirely new funding model when the final licence fee funding deal expires in 2027, with potential options including a subscription service, part-privatisation, or direct Government funding. While critics accuse Johnson of tactically targeting the BBC now to save his Premiership, this move could indeed prove popular with voters. In May 2021, 56% of Britons overall—including 64% of 2019 Conservative voters and 54% of 2019 Labour voters—supported getting rid of the BBC licence fee and having the BBC switch to a private subscription-based model as used by Channel 4, Sky, and others. Only 18% of Britons conversely opposed such a change to the BBC’s funding model.

R&WS in the Media

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

Boris Johnson under pressure after claim he lied to parliament over party
Financial Times | 18 January 2022

Liz Truss Leadership “Schmooze Operation” Is In Full Swing As Boris Johnson’s Popularity Plummets
PoliticsHome | 17 January 2022

Biden Narrowly Beats Trump in Latest Hypothetical 2024 Matchup Poll, Despite Low Approval
Newsweek | 14 January 2022

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 lead we have had for any party since May 2020. Westminster Voting Intention (17 Jan): (see full tweet)
  2. Johnson vs. Starmer (17 Jan): (see full tweet)
  3. What political or Government-related news stories most caught Britons’ attention in the past week? (18 Jan): (see full tweet)
  4. Narrowest lead for Sunak over Starmer for better PM we have recorded. (17 Jan): (see full tweet)
  5. Do Americans trust the Republican Party or the Democratic Party the most in the following policy areas? (16 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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