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 how the Conservatives’ traditional reputation as the party of low taxes has been damaged by its decision to increase National Insurance tax, and what that means for the ailing party.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ thoughts on whether the coronavirus crisis is approaching its end
  • Mask-wearing in the US and Great Britain
  • The Scottish public’s opinions on North Sea oil and gas drilling

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
(7 Feb):

Labour 42% (+2)
Conservative 32% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 9% (-2)
Green 6% (–)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 4% (+1)
Other 3% (+1)

Changes +/- 31 Jan

All Net Approval Ratings
(7 Feb):

Rishi Sunak: +8% (-3)
Keir Starmer: -1% (–)
Boris Johnson: -26% (+1)

Changes +/- 31 Jan

Our latest voting intention poll finds the Labour Party leading by 10%, increasing their lead over the Conservative Party by three points since last week’s poll. Overall, 42% (+2) say they would vote for Labour if there were to be a General Election in the United Kingdom tomorrow, while 32% (-1) would vote Conservative. The Government’s net competency rating stands at -32% (+3) in this week’s poll, and the Prime Minister’s net approval rating has marginally increased to -26% (+1). Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak receives a +8% net approval rating this week, the lowest we have recorded for Sunak to date.

Amidst yet another poor voting intention showing, a disastrously low approval rating for Johnson, and a plummeting approval rating for Sunak, regaining the public’s favour is clearly shaping up to be a mammoth task for the Conservatives. Another thermometer with which we can measure the public’s temperature—the question of party trust—reveals similarly concerning trends for Boris Johnson’s Government.

Last week, for the first time since we began tracking these questions in February 2021, Britons were more likely to trust Labour than to trust the Conservatives in every policy area on which we poll, including managing the economy: 34% said they most trust Labour and 29% said they most trust the Conservative Party in this regard.

Further concerning for Boris Johnson, respondents in last week’s poll were more likely to trust Labour than the Conservatives in the latter’s other historically strongest areas, including responding to the coronavirus crisis (33% to 28%), tackling crime (34% to 25%), and handling immigration (32% to 24%).

The notable shifts in the public’s trust away from the Conservatives towards Labour are unlikely to have all been consequences of the two parties’ actual actions in these specific policy areas.

In most areas, the transfer in trust is largely a symptom of a broader increase in disapproval of the Conservative Party in general, which has then informed Britons’ assessments of the party’s trustworthiness in every regard. The same trend has been visible in the Government’s net approval ratings in particular policy areas, all but one of which fell last week.

Frustration with this Government has clearly been at an all-time high, especially in the wake of party-gate, and that frustration is seeping into the public’s perception of its performance even in areas that have nothing to do with these recent developments.

However, we note that, through various periods of difficulty for the Government over the past year (controversy over its handling of the pandemic, the Owen Paterson scandal, the Downing Street Christmas Party news), the Conservatives had managed to remain the most trusted party in its traditionals areas of strength—above all, managing the economy.

Even as Labour started to gain significant ground on their adversary in voting intention polling in recent months, the Conservatives had been able to maintain their grip on the prized status as most trustworthy on the economy. The decreased trust in the Conservative Party to manage the economy could certainly be related to public dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living combined with the upcoming National Insurance increase, which Sunak reaffirmed the weekend prior to our poll. But the fact that the Conservatives can now sometimes be deemed less trustworthy in what many usually consider their main area of strength should reveal just how alarming a situation the party faces.

Chart of the Week

Is the End of the Coronavirus Crisis Nigh?

Last week, for the first time since May 2021, a greater proportion of Britons agreed (37%) than disagreed (34%) that the coronavirus crisis will likely be over in a year’s time. In the span of just over a month, the share of respondents who disagreed that the crisis will be over in a year fell 21 points, after peaking at 55% on 20 December amidst the Omicron surge.

Although daily Covid cases remain considerably higher than they were in November before Omicron’s emergence, the sense that the crisis will be over in a year is noticeably stronger now than it was then.

To be sure, there is no single way to conclude the crisis is truly ‘over,’ and individuals will have diverse opinions on what will constitute its end. For instance, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that NHS waiting lists will continue to rise until at least 2024, which may represent an extension of the crisis in some Britons’ eyes. Others may be unwilling to deem the crisis over until the economic problems it has unleashed—supply chain issues, increased national debt, and labour market disruptions, to name a few—are resolved, or at least sufficiently improved. Further, as long as some people, no matter how small in number, continue to be hospitalised and lose their lives as a result of Covid on a daily basis, this reality may also bar the public from feeling the crisis has ended.

For now, a plurality (47%) indicates they would oppose the Government declaring the crisis to be ‘over’ in the UK, while 31% would support such a move, showing there is no strong consensus on whether the country has reached that point yet.

Likewise, ‘living with the virus’ also has different significations for different people, with 52% of respondents saying it means adjusting to a lifestyle mostly different from before the pandemic and 48% saying it means returning to a lifestyle mostly similar to before.

Accordingly, Britons’ interpretations of our question are far from uniform and have undoubtedly changed over the course of the pandemic. However, with almost half (47%) of the public optimistic about the direction in which the pandemic is heading in the UK and 57% believing the worst of it is over, there is an unmistakably growing sense that the coronavirus crisis as we have known it is approaching its welcome end.

Our Global Data

United States: Americans (49%) are less likely than Britons (59%) to say they ‘always’ wear a face mask when shopping at the supermarket. Mask-wearing also correlates to political affiliation much more in the US, with 64% of 2020 Biden voters and 36% of 2020 Trump voters indicating they ‘always’ wear a mask in the supermarket, whereas 2019 Conservative voters (63%) are only somewhat more likely than 2019 Labour voters (58%) to do so. Age is instead a much better predictor of mask-wearing in Britain: 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds, in contrast to 73% of those aged 65 and above, report ‘always’ wearing a mask in the supermarket.

United States: 54% of the American public is concerned about their savings for the future. While a plurality or majority of all age groups say they are concerned, the middle age groups stand out as being particularly worried about their savings, with 62% of 35-to-44-year-olds and 64% of 45-to-54-year-olds expressing concern. The eldest age group is the most confident about their savings for the future: 32% of those aged 65 and above indicate they feel confident.

Great Britain: Almost half (46%) of the British public says they are ‘not at all’ religious or spiritual, while just 9% consider themselves to be ‘very’ religious or spiritual. 18-to-24-year-olds (21%) are by far the most likely to say they are ‘very’ religious or spiritual, which corresponds to the fact that this age group gives the highest average rating (1.4) when asked how much trust they have in religious institutions, on a scale from 0 to 3.

Great Britain: In the past month, 45% of Britons say they have purposefully reduced their spending on groceries in response to rising costs. Other areas where the public has reported reducing its spending include on restaurant/take-away food (44%), clothing (43%), entertainment and leisure activities (40%), and heating (39%).

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

The Conservatives and Taxes: A Reputation Lost, Nothing Gained

‘We not only want to freeze taxes, but to cut them too.’ Those were the words of the Conservative Party’s 2019 Manifesto. Yet, as our polling last week shows, the party that promised no increases in income tax, VAT, or National Insurance under its leadership is now associated with raising taxes by the public and by its own voters.

A majority (53%) of members of the public most associate the Conservative Party with raising taxes, a much greater figure than those who associate it with lowering taxes (15%) or neither (22%). Likewise, 50% of Britons disagree that the Conservative Party currently stands for lower taxes.

Even more problematically, those who voted Conservative in 2019 clearly believe the party has lost its historical stance on the critical issue of taxation: pluralities of Conservative voters both most associate the Conservatives with raising taxes (46%) and disagree that the party currently stands for lower taxes (39%).

Meanwhile, the public evidently has little appetite for higher taxes, and it is not difficult to understand why. As we outlined in last week’s edition of Magnified, Britons are contending with a mounting cost of living crisis, with 50% now expecting their personal financial situation to worsen in the next three months—up 12 points since last week. Three-quarters of members of the public indicate they have taken steps to reduce their spending in the past month in response to the crisis.

At a time when individuals are increasingly concerned about their finances, it is no wonder why a tax rise was the last thing many Britons were hoping for. If anything, a plurality of 38% believe the Government should lower taxes, up from 28% in October 2021. Whereas 21% thought the Government should raise taxes in October, just 13% give this response in our latest poll, in addition to 37% who say taxes should remain at their current level.

Yet, against the public mood, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have confirmed that the National Insurance increase to fund health and social care will go ahead as planned in April 2022.

The plan will be introduced with limited public backing, as 28% support the Government’s decision to increase National Insurance contributions to fund social care and the NHS, while 49% oppose it. Among the Conservative Party’s 2019 voter base, those opposed (43%) slightly outnumber those in support (39%), while Labour voters (60%) are more firmly against the decision.

But what is at stake here for the Conservative Party is not just one unpopular policy—its entire reputation has been tarnished. When a majority of the public no longer associates a political party with one of its long-standing, popular pillars, that party is in deep trouble.

This disillusionment regarding what has traditionally been a defining aspect of the Conservatives’ platform will have detrimental repercussions for the party’s electoral chances. After all, how can the party promise to deliver on lowering taxes at the next General Election when it has already broken that central pledge, or anything else for that matter?

Their credibility on the matter has been damaged, perhaps irrevocably, and regaining voters’ trust may prove challenging. The figure that should really sound the alarm for Boris Johnson’s party is that almost a third (31%) of 2019 Conservative voters say they would be less likely to vote Conservative if the Government raises taxes, as do 17% of those who currently say they would vote Conservative if there were an election tomorrow. The potential for meaningful voter loss is thus very real.

At the same time, the potential for meaningful voter gain through this plan is minimal. Boris Johnson’s efforts to boost healthcare funding clearly represent an attempt to make good on the declaration he made in his 2019 election victory speech that ‘the NHS is this one-nation Conservative Government’s top priority.’ It is apparent the Health and Social Care Levy is part of a long-term strategy to reduce Labour’s relative advantage on the NHS by establishing a positive Conservative position on the issue.

But that strategy has so far failed. Johnson’s Government receives among its lowest net approval ratings when it comes to its performance on the NHS, still sitting at -15% in our latest poll. ‘Supporting the NHS’ is also consistently one of the areas where Britons most trust Labour more than any other party: 40% this week say they most trust Labour in this realm, compared to 23% who say they most trust the Conservative Party. The NHS is still decidedly viewed as falling within Labour’s purview, and the Government’s latest efforts to fund the health and social care system have not made a difference.

The Health and Social Care Levy has not only failed to convince more voters that the Conservative Party is now the party of the NHS—it has also provided Labour with the opportunity to present itself as the party of low taxes. Keir Starmer has made his opposition to the measure clear, asking ‘why is the Prime Minister insisting on hammering working people?’ Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves delivered an impassioned call-and-response speech against the measure in the Commons: ‘Will it create more and better paid jobs in the economy? No. Is it fair across the regions? No…Will this tax bombshell help our economic recovery? No. And is it the last tax increase in this parliament? No.’

In light of these developments, in which the Conservative Party is defending and the Labour Party is criticising a tax increase, the public is now more likely to associate the characteristic ‘advocates for lower taxes’ with Labour (29%) rather than the Conservatives (19%). Further still, while over half of the public (53%) says they most associate the Conservatives with raising taxes (rather than lowering them or neither), only a quarter (27%) say the same of Labour, with another quarter (24%) instead most associating Labour with lowering taxes.

So, for the price of their historical reputation on taxation, what have the Conservatives gained? Our polling points to just one answer: nothing.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel ‘misled’ public over 14 per cent fall in crime
The Telegraph | 3 February 2022

Our take: As he addressed the preliminary release of Sue Gray’s report in Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared his Government had cut crime by 14%—a claim that the UK Statistics Authority has since rebuked as inaccurate. The public is not convinced by Johnson’s defence of his record on policing and crime, giving his Government a net approval rating of -16% in this realm. At present, Britons are instead more inclined to trust the Labour Party (28%) rather than the Conservative Party (25%) to tackle crime.

Rishi Sunak says he wants to encourage more fossil fuel drilling
Independent | 3 February 2022

Our take: Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated last week that he wants to encourage investment in the North Sea natural gas fields, saying ‘we’re going to need natural gas as part of our transition to getting to net zero.’ On the topic of North Sea drilling, the Scottish public lacks a coherent opinion: pluralities say both that they would support the UK Government banning the issuance of further licences to extract oil and gas (40%) and that they would support the further extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea to secure the UK’s energy supply, even if it is harmful to the environment (36%).

R&WS in the Media

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

Over A Quarter Of Tory Voters Would Not Vote For Boris Johnson’s Conservatives If They Had Their 2019 Vote Again, Poll Shows
Politics Home | 4 February 2022

Tory MP Aaron Bell calls PM’s position untenable as he submits letter calling for no-confidence vote – as it happened
The Guardian | 4 February 2022

London Playbook: Downing St meltdown — No. 10 runners and riders — Cost of living crisis
Politico | 4 February 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. For the first time since we began tracking these questions in Feb 2021, Britons are more likely to trust Labour than to trust the Conservatives in ALL policy areas on which we poll. (4 Feb): (see full tweet)
  2. A plurality most trusts Labour to manage the economy for the first time since we began tracking this question in Feb 2021. (4 Feb): (see full tweet)
  3. How much do the parties and other rule-breaking gatherings held at 10 Downing Street during the pandemic matter personally to Britons? (8 Feb): (see full tweet)
  4. At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the UK? (7 Feb): (see full tweet)
  5. Lowest net approval rating we have recorded for Sunak. (7 Feb): (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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