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 what we call the “Omicron Moment” as the coronavirus restrictions are eased and the British public increasingly see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ opinions on the legalisation of cannabis
  • The British public’s views on compulsory coronavirus vaccines for NHS staff
  • Americans’ attitudes towards Big Tech antitrust legislation

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
(24 Jan):

Labour 41% (-2)
Conservative 34% (+4)
Liberal Democrat 11% (+2)
Green 5% (-2)
Scottish National Party 5% (+1)
Reform UK 3% (-1)
Other 1% (-2)

Changes +/- 17 Jan

All Net Approval Ratings
(24 Jan):

Rishi Sunak: +17% (-1)
Keir Starmer: -2% (-2)
Boris Johnson: -27% (+4)

Changes +/- 17 Jan

Our latest voting intention poll this week finds the Labour Party leading by 7%, a six-point decline compared to their lead over the Conservatives in last week’s poll. Overall, 41% (-2) would currently vote for Labour if there were to be a General Election in the United Kingdom tomorrow, while 34% (+4) would vote Conservative. The Government’s net competency rating stands at -33% (+4) in this week’s poll, and the Prime Minister’s net approval rating sits at a still considerably negative -27% (+4).

Amidst clear frustrations within the Conservative Party—nevermind the general public—regarding their leader, polling that we conducted last Thursday in the ‘Red Wall’ seats the Conservatives flipped in the last election (plus Hartlepool) can explain why Boris Johnson has been able to hold onto his position for so long.

To be sure, polling in the ‘Red Wall’ is clearly bleak for the Conservative Party. On average, the Conservatives won these seats by about 9% in 2019. At this moment, with Boris Johnson as leader of the party, they poll 12 points behind.

What others have missed in their ‘Red Wall’ polling, however, is that the Conservatives are also considerably behind Labour in the ‘Red Wall’ with any other possible replacement. With Rishi Sunak as leader, the party performs marginally better overall and marginally worse among those who voted Conservative in 2019—not a clear and quick improvement. For any other alternative candidate, the results are significantly worse.

While hypothetical voting intentions should not be considered precise in their predictive ability, they do illustrate the general direction of the consequences of a possible future event. Boris Johnson has likely been able to forcefully argue to MPs that switching leaders alone would not fix the present predicament. It could even risk transforming a difficult situation into an impossible one.

Let it not be lost that holding onto these ‘Red Wall’ seats was always going to be a very difficult challenge for the Conservatives in the next General Election.

When 2019 Conservative voters in these constituencies are asked why they voted Conservative in the last General Election, the two most important reasons given are ‘I opposed Jeremy Corbyn’ (53%) and ‘I supported getting Brexit done’ (53%). With the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit being, so to speak, ‘done,’ a considerable number of voters’ reasons for their votes for the Conservative Party, both in 2017 and in 2019, virtually disappeared.

While 60% of Conservative voters in these ‘Red Wall’ seats do think that Brexit is still a work in progress, the simple fact that the UK has left the EU dramatically reduces the electoral salience of the issues that remain to be worked out, such as the Northern Ireland Protocol. 51% of these voters now say that where someone stands on Brexit “does not significantly matter to me.” Consequently, as was pointed out in a previous issue of Magnified, banking on Brexit is no longer an option.

As for the former reason, Keir Starmer—as we pointed out in last week’s issue of Magnified—is a far less divisive persona than his predecessor, with his inoffensive nature. Opposition to the current Labour Leader is thus much less likely to drive voters into the Conservatives’ hands at the next General Election.

Dramatically, a third (33%) of 2019 Conservative voters in ‘Red Wall’ constituencies therefore say outright that the reasons why they voted Conservative in the last General Election no longer apply, hence illustrating the degree to which the loss of Conservative support in the flipped ‘Red Wall’ seats has roots beyond recent events such as party-gate. Do not forget, further, that the Conservative Party will face the challenge of asking voters for 19 years in Government in 2024, surpassing the Thatcher-Major longevity of 18 years.

Meanwhile, not all is negative for Boris Johnson’s leadership, despite party-gate. In fact, if it were not for this latest scandal, Johnson might have been experiencing one of the more popular moments of his Premiership on the back of decisions his Government has made in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant. As we write below, there is a palpably increasing sense that the worst is behind us in the United Kingdom, that restrictions are ending permanently this time, that the vaccine success is something to be proud of, and that the Government has recently been making the right decisions on this front.

After two difficult years of this pandemic experience, how ironic it is that Boris Johnson is desperately holding onto his job during what should otherwise have been a moment of victorious relief for his Government.

Chart of the Week

Amid Low Birth Rate, Young People Do Aspire to Have Children

According to the latest predictions released by the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s population growth is set to slow dramatically over the next decade, largely due to lower expected fertility levels. In the decade to 2030, the UK’s population is set to grow by 3.2%, compared to a 6.9% growth rate in the decade to 2020. The current fertility rate in England and Wales (2020) is 1.58 children per woman—the lowest since records began in 1938.

How do these figures square with young people’s own plan for their future? Four-fifths (79%) of 16-to-25-year-olds in England say they aspire to have children of their own one day—including both 81% of female respondents and 77% of male respondents. 21% do not want to have children of their own.

Notably, 91% of those who aspire to have children want two or more, including 94% of young female respondents who want children. More than half (57%) say they would like to have two children, a further 23% would like to have three, while 11% would like to have 4 or more children.

Fewer Britons than ever are having children, yet, as these figures show, young Britons clearly want to have their own children one day. What could be causing this divergence?

Our Global Data

Great Britain: As the Government seeks to shore up support by announcing a two-year freeze on the BBC licence fee and calling into question the funding model’s future, our research indicates that this move is indeed popular with the public: 54% disagree that BBC services are worth the current price of a licence fee, and 63% would support scrapping the fee in five years. Read more here.

Great Britain: 38% of Britons would oppose and 35% would support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use in the UK. 51% of 2019 Conservative voters oppose such a change in legislation, compared to a much lower 25% of 2019 Labour voters who oppose. Read more here.

United States: In a December 2021 poll, Americans were divided on what type of relationship their country has with Ukraine: 25% see the latter as more of an ally and 21% see it as more of a threat. Meanwhile, 27% believe Ukraine is neither an ally nor a threat to the US and its interests, and 27% are unsure.

Great Britain: Though a plurality (38%) of the British public expresses support for the UK providing military support to Ukraine to prevent/deter a Russian invasion, a majority (59%) does not think the UK has the capacity to provide sufficient military support to accomplish that goal. If Russia were to successfully invade Ukraine, 40% say this would make them feel less safe, compared to 36% who would not feel any less safe.

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 Success Provides Opportunity for the UK Government

A sense that the pandemic may be nearly over is rising in the United Kingdom. In fact, 47% are now optimistic about the direction in which the coronavirus pandemic is heading in the UK, compared to 27% who are pessimistic. Moreover, 56% of Britons—the highest proportion since June 2021—now think that the worst of the pandemic is behind them, compared to 21% who think the worst is yet to come.

For the first time in our polling, we find more respondents (38%) now saying they do not expect any non-travel related domestic coronavirus restrictions in six month’s time than saying they do expect such restrictions to return (32%)—the first indicator that many in Britain are envisioning a more enduring return to something resembling the pre-pandemic normal.

To some, the Government’s latest announcement last week that Plan B measures in place in England—notably mandatory face masks, Covid passes, and working from home guidance—would end on 27 January is first and foremost a cynical PR stunt. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, for instance, recently accused the Government of being ‘forever on the lookout for a headline which will distract people from the awful mess that it finds itself in.’

But from most Britons’ point of view, the Government has made the right call with regard to the Omicron variant. A notable 55% support and only 25% oppose the Government’s decision not to lock down over Christmas and New Year’s. Moreover, 53% support and 26% oppose the Government’s decision to further ease coronavirus restrictions. Among 2019 Conservative voters, support for this latest decision rises to 66%. Public approval of the Government’s latest actions on the pandemic is thus demonstrable.

Other elements of the Government’s pandemic handling also continue to command significant support. Britons view the implementation of a nationwide vaccine programme as a resounding success, for instance. 72% of Britons think the Government did a good job in this regard—a proportion that has only changed marginally compared to March (76%) and June (73%) last year. Notably, half (53%) of Conservative voters agree that the vaccine success should, in part, be credited to Brexit.

There is a further sense that the United Kingdom’s success is somewhat unique. 48% of the public agree that the country is in a better position moving forward than the rest of Europe with regard to the coronavirus pandemic. 20% disagree. Among those who voted Conservative in 2019, 73% agree, and just 5% disagree. Moreover, 65% of Britons agree that the United Kingdom should be proud of elements of its pandemic response, especially its vaccine procurement and rollout. Only 11% disagree.

Even so, the public is cautious to declare victory over the pandemic. While these positive assessments are certainly good news for the Government and the country at large, 47% say they would oppose the Government declaring the coronavirus crisis in the UK to be ‘over’—compared to 31% who would support it doing so.

Other challenges still remain, after all.

A plurality of 44% currently thinks the Government is not taking the right measures to address the economic repercussions of the pandemic, compared to 36% who think that it is. Ultimately, the economic difficulties many voters are experiencing now—with 61% ‘very’ or ‘fairly concerned’ about their ability to afford their energy bills this year, for example—demonstrate how the coronavirus ‘crisis’ continues to affect voters.

Nearly half (48%) of Britons do still think the Government has done a good job in protecting the jobs at risk as a result of the pandemic and consecutive lockdowns—a figure that has only changed slightly since March 2021, when 53% thought the Government had done a good job in this regard, but the economic challenges before the Government are certainly imposing.

Apart from economic concerns, the Government has another pressing issue. When asked in which policy area they would most like to see the Government improve immediately, a plurality (32%) cites the NHS, including a pluralities of those who voted Conservative in 2019 but are undecided in their present voting intention (33%) or now say they would vote Labour (26%).

How to do so is not necessarily straightforward: Voters want to see improvements to NHS services, but they dislike the idea of funding such improvements through higher tax contributions. In fact, 56% of Britons would support, against just 18% who would oppose, scrapping the National Insurance tax increase which is currently set to take effect in April—and whose purpose would, at least in part, be to fund the NHS. Launching a debate on potential NHS reforms, without increases in spending, will be tricky.

Above all, there is a strong desire among the public for Boris Johnson not only to fully apologise for party-gate, but to admit that the Government made policy mistakes during the pandemic—72% of the public would support such a public admission of mistakes. For instance, 73% agree that the United Kingdom was ill-prepared for the pandemic. With the pandemic subsiding, this moment may just be the perfect opportunity to present some of the lessons learned by the pandemic experience and propose reforms that stem from these lessons.

The Omicron success should give Boris Johnson the freedom to make such a decisive shift on the issues that matter to voters. Embroiled in party-gate, however, does he see the opportunity before him?

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Call to delay compulsory Covid vaccines for NHS staff
BBC | 23 January 2022

Our take: The Royal College of General Practitioners has called to delay the deadline for health workers to get their coronavirus vaccine to prevent staff shortages. Under Government rules, NHS staff must have a first jab by 3 February and be fully vaccinated by 1 April to continue in frontline roles. When asked to select the policy that makes most sense for public health, 52% think the NHS should keep unvaccinated doctors and nurses to prevent potential staffing shortages. A much lower proportion of 29% thinks the NHS should fire unvaccinated doctors and nurses in order to encourage as many as possible to get vaccinated.

Big Tech rattled as US antitrust push finds rare bipartisan backing
Financial Times | 23 January 2022

Our take: Last week, the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16 to 6 on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which aims to prevent major tech companies from giving preferential treatment to their own products. While Big Tech companies themselves are protesting against the bill, the measure is likely to be popular among American voters. In August 2021, a plurality of 44% approved of Biden’s decision to introduce measures to combat anti-competitive practices in Big Tech—something only 16% of Americans overall opposed. In the same month, Americans in both Democratic states such as California (49%) and Republican states such as Texas (52%) approved of the Federal Trade Commission and several State Attorney Generals bringing antitrust lawsuits against large technology companies such as Facebook and Google. Disapproval, on the other hand, was marginal, at 8% in California and 7% in Texas. Taking action to reign in the market power of Big Tech—which many Americans perceive as disproportionate—thus appears to be a policy goal that commands rare bipartisan support.

R&WS in the Media

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

Sunday Crunch: Rocked by racism claim —Tory wars deepen — Putin’s puppets?
Politico | 23 January 2022

Waging war on the whips
The Times | 21 January 2022

Tories fall 13 points behind in polls as Downing Street party scandal continues to bite Boris Johnson
iNews | 17 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. ‘Red Wall’ Voting Intention (19-20 Jan): (see full tweet)
  2. How do ‘Red Wall’ voters think the following individuals would have performed during the pandemic? (21 Jan): (see full tweet)
  3. Does the British public support or oppose the Government’s decision to not lock down during Christmas and New Year’s? (23 Jan): (see full tweet)
  4. Can Boris Johnson win back voters and save his Premiership? (21 Jan): (see full tweet)
  5. For which OTHER party could current Labour voters see themselves voting? (27 Jan): (see full tweet)

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