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 the challenge that will confront Cabinet Ministers regarding how to frame their position within Boris Johnson’s Government, should they run in a potential leadership contest.

This week, our research also covered:

  • The current events that Britons have heard about and care about the most
  • British views on telehealth
  • How the English public intends to proceed with all Covid regulations lifted

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
(21 Feb):

Labour 39% (+1)
Conservative 33% (–)
Liberal Democrat 11% (–)
Green 7% (+1)
Scottish National Party 5% (+1)
Reform UK 4% (-1)
Other 2% (-1)

Changes +/- 14 Feb

All Net Approval Ratings
(21 Feb):

Rishi Sunak: +4% (-6)
Keir Starmer: -1% (+4)
Boris Johnson: -31% (-8)

Changes +/- 14 Feb

Our latest voting intention poll finds the Labour Party leading by 6%, a one-point increase to their lead over the Conservative Party since last week’s poll. Overall, 39% (+1) say they would vote for Labour if there were to be a General Election in the United Kingdom tomorrow, while 33% (–) would vote Conservative. 

The Government’s net competency rating stands at -35% (-6) in this week’s poll, and the Prime Minister’s net approval rating has decreased eight points to -31%, which ties for the lowest net rating we have recorded for Johnson. Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has also received his lowest-ever net approval rating, at +4% (-6).

Public frustration with the Boris Johnson Government evidently remains at a fever pitch, and the party-gate scandal is not entirely to blame for it. In fact, with majorities of Britons agreeing they are tired of hearing about the Downing Street parties (60%) and the country needs to move on from them (55%), the source of the public’s ongoing dissatisfaction clearly lies deeper.

This week, the Johnson Government receives a negative net approval rating in every policy area on which we poll, with many of such figures experiencing substantial declines over recent months. 

When asked to assess its performance on policies relating to Scotland (-6%), the economy (-15%), policing/crime (-21%), the NHS (-24%), and housing (-31%), the public this week gives the Government the lowest net approval ratings we have recorded since we began tracking these questions in July 2021. Further, in the past week, the Government’s net approval rating on foreign policy dropped six points to -13%, while its rating on the pandemic fell nine points to -5%.

We have mentioned before that lower levels of approval in specific policy areas can, in part, be viewed as a symptom of wider dissatisfaction with the Government at large. But as we move further away from the party-gate scandal and the public’s evaluations of the Government continue to grow increasingly unfavourable, it is apparent that Britons are also reacting to specific policy actions (or inactions).

The mounting cost of living crisis and upcoming National Insurance increase no doubt figure heavily in respondents’ assessments of the Government’s economic performance, resulting in a -15% net approval rating which has decreased by nine points since the start of the year and by 25 points since last July. The -24% rating on the NHS is likely influenced by ongoing NHS backlogs, while the -21% rating on policing/crime is at least partially a consequence of the current increased scrutiny of the Metropolitan Police we covered in last week’s Magnified. With all of these areas receiving record-low net approval ratings this week, the public is blatantly unimpressed with how Johnson’s Government has responded to these issues.

Therefore, while the fact that many Britons are eager to move on from the Downing Street parties may be much-welcomed news for Boris Johnson, he is not at all in the clear. In reality, our polling on the public’s views of his Government’s policy performance reveals that his struggles are far from over.

Chart of the Week

Today’s Chart of the Week looks at the extent to which respondents to our 16 February poll both have heard about and care about various UK and global current events of the past month. The x=y diagonal line extending through the chart represents the point at which respondents saying they have heard or read ‘a significant amount’ about an event and saying the event has mattered ‘a significant amount’ to them are equal. Thus, the further away a point is from the line, the greater the discrepancy between the amount heard about the occurrence and the amount respondents care about it.

The development about which Britons have heard or read the most is also the one which matters most to them: rising prices in the UK. 67% have heard or read ‘a significant amount’ about rising prices, and 61% say it matters ‘a significant amount’ to them. 

A substantial 43% of respondents also indicate that the upcoming increase in National Insurance contributions matters ‘a significant amount’ to them, while a notably lower 37% say they have heard or read ‘a significant amount’ about it. As such, the upcoming increase in National Insurance contributions is the only event where respondents are more likely to say it matters to them ‘a significant amount’ than to say they have heard or read about it that amount.

After rising prices, the current event to which Britons have been most exposed in the past month is the gatherings held in Downing Street that broke coronavirus rules, about which 62% have heard or read ‘a significant amount.’ But there is a notable gap between those who have heard ‘a significant amount’ about the news and those who say it matters ‘a significant amount’ to them, with 40% giving the latter response. 

The extent to which the Downing Street gatherings matter to the public differs among voters, with 51% of 2019 Labour voters and 30% of 2019 Conservative voters saying the news has mattered ‘a significant amount’ to them—while 27% of Conservative voters express that it has mattered ‘not at all.’

Other events about which a majority of respondents have heard or read ‘a significant amount’ include the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine (57%), Australia cancelling unvaccinated Tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa (54%), and the coronavirus pandemic amidst the Omicron variant (52%). Among these events, the latter is the one Britons care about the most, with a third (32%) saying the pandemic amidst the Omicron variant has mattered to them ‘a significant amount.’ By contrast, smaller proportions say a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine (25%) and Australia cancelling Djokovic’s visa (15%) matter to them to this extent.

Among the recent developments on which we polled, the ones Britons both have heard about and care about the least are the Winter Olympics and the truckers in Canada protesting vaccine mandates. 27% say they have heard or read about the Winter Olympics ‘a significant amount,’ and 17% say they have heard or read about the trucker protests ‘a significant amount,’ while a respective 8% and 7% say these events have mattered to them this amount. Instead, 46% suggest the Winter Olympics have ‘not at all’ mattered to them, while 52% say the same of the trucker protests in Canada.

Our Global Data

United States: The American public is noticeably less optimistic about the timeline of the pandemic than the British public is: whereas 60% of Britons believe the worst of the pandemic is behind us, 41% of Americans hold this view. Conversely, 29% of respondents in the US believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, compared to 18% in Great Britain. Still, in both countries, it is the eldest age groups that are most likely to think the worst is over, and the youngest age groups that are most likely to think the worst is yet to come.

England: A majority (57%) of 16-to-25-year-olds in England agree that they could not imagine living without social media, whereas just 18% disagree. At the same time, the demographic is tightly split on whether the time they spend on social media and what they get out of using it is mostly useless (44%) or mostly useful (43%) to their life.

England: Half (51%) of those aged 16-to-25 living in England say they feel like they belong to a community. The most common factors that make such individuals feel like they belong to a community include where they live (57%), their interests or hobbies (41%), their family (39%), and their cultural background (34%). Alternatively, a third (34%) of respondents do not feel like they belong to a community.

Great Britain: Britons express a clear preference for meeting with their doctors in person (66%) rather than by video (12%), with 52% of those who prefer in-person consultations saying they would rather wait for such an appointment instead of taking a video call the next day. The preference seems to stem from widespread doubts about the quality of virtual medical appointments: 54% think telehealth consultations most often result in diagnoses that are less accurate compared to in-person medical consultations.

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

How Will Leadership Contenders Portray Their Role in Johnson’s Government?

With the Metropolitan Police investigation into the Downing Street parties ongoing, Boris Johnson’s future remains in question. If the police find the Prime Minister guilty of breaching coronavirus restrictions and fine him accordingly, he will be under significant public pressure to resign, with two-thirds (66%) in our 9 February poll saying he should leave office in this event. 

However, even if the investigation does not result in Johnson being fined, and even if the nation is able to move on from the ordeal, such an outcome will not spell the end of the Prime Minister’s troubles. Frustration with Johnson’s Government runs much deeper, and desires for a new Conservative Party Leader to emerge before the next General Election will no doubt persist.

Therefore, amidst the real possibility that a leadership contest may be on the horizon, some members of Johnson’s Cabinet have no doubt begun to think about a potential bid to succeed the Prime Minister. Yet, with disapproval across several policy areas being a key reason behind Johnson’s current predicament, one major question looming large in the heads of the leadership contenders will be how they should frame the role they have played in the Government of the very man they seek to replace.

Some candidates may find it strategically wise to align themselves closely to Boris Johnson to appeal to the party faithful whose views of the Prime Minister remain favourable. Contenders could aim to particularly associate themselves with the more positive elements of Johnson’s track record, which, in the public’s (and especially loyal Conservative voters’) eyes, include his response to the pandemic and his getting Brexit done. 

Yet, any Minister hoping to succeed Boris Johnson may also run the risk of poisoning their own reputation through their connection to the Prime Minister, especially as he and his policies have become increasingly unpopular with the public. Accordingly, seeking distance from Johnson’s Government and its positions may be wise, allowing a candidate to spell out how they would have taken different courses of action had they themselves been in charge. 

Is it possible to establish such distance? 

54% of members of the public believe a Minister cannot get a policy enacted or implemented without the Prime Minister’s approval, while only 19% believe they can. A Minister therefore might be able to argue that a policy they wanted to see implemented was stymied by the Prime Minister.

But a plurality (39%) of Britons also believe the Prime Minister cannot get a policy enacted or implemented without the relevant Minister’s approval, compared to 34% who think the Prime Minister can do so. In fact, most Britons (59%) believe Ministers are equally responsible as the Prime Minister for policies that broadly belong to their Department, and 13% think Ministers are more responsible. Consequently, distancing themselves from the Department-specific policies that were introduced during their time in the given role will prove exceedingly difficult for Cabinet members seeking the top spot. After all, if they had fundamentally disagreed with the Prime Minister, why did they not resign?

Looking specifically at particular Ministers and their responsibility for policies relevant to their portfolio since the 2019 election, the dominant view is that their responsibilities have been either on par with or greater than the Prime Minister’s. 71% say Rishi Sunak has been equally as or more responsible than Boris Johnson for economic policies and 70% say the same for tax policies, while a respective 62% and 66% believe Priti Patel has been equally or more responsible for policing/crime policies and immigration policies. 62% find that Dominic Raab/Liz Truss have been equally or more responsible for foreign affairs, and 69% think Matt Hancock/Sajid Javid have been equally or more responsible for NHS policies. Relatively few, by contrast, find these Government Ministers less responsible.

However, the extent to which respondents assign Cabinet members responsibility relative to the Prime Minister is not uniform across all Ministers. Respondents are notably more prone to feeling Rishi Sunak has been more responsible than the Prime Minister for economic policies (27%) and tax policies (26%). Among 2019 Conservative voters, these figures increase to 35% and 32%. For the other Cabinet members on which we polled, 18% or fewer believe they have been more responsible than Boris Johnson for their respective policy areas. There accordingly exists a perception that, relative to other leading Cabinet figures, Rishi Sunak has had a greater degree of responsibility over his remit. 

Further to this point, 35% believe Sunak has played a ‘significantly important’ role in economic policymaking during Johnson’s Government, and 34% say the same with regard to his role in taxation—the area where Boris Johnson’s Government has become least trusted. By contrast, 18% think Sajid Javid has played a ‘significantly important’ role with respect to NHS policies, 19% say the same with respect to Priti Patel’s role in immigration policies, and 16% say the same with respect to Liz Truss’ role in foreign affairs.

These results suggest that comparatively lower-profile Cabinet Ministers like Javid, Patel, and Truss may be less able than Sunak to take ownership over their Departments’ policy records. But within a context of growing discontent with the Government’s policy performance, this reality may benefit these potential contenders. For Priti Patel and Sajid Javid in particular—with immigration and the NHS being the most-selected policy areas where Conservative voters believe the Johnson Government has performed the worst—the more they distinguish themselves and their policy positions from those of the Prime Minister, the better.

If Boris Johnson’s Premiership is a slowly sinking ship, any Cabinet Ministers too closely enmeshed in this Premiership may be doomed to go down with it. But with the public convinced that Ministers are equally as responsible for policies as the Prime Minister, jumping ship may prove an insurmountable challenge, especially for those like Rishi Sunak who are perceived to have a particularly heightened role in the Government. Therefore, should Boris Johnson be ousted on the basis of poor approval across several key issues, replacing him will not be a straightforward task for the Conservative Party.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Boris Johnson announces end of COVID restrictions in England
EuroNews | 21 February 2022

Our take: Boris Johnson has announced that all remaining coronavirus regulations will be lifted in England, including the requirement to isolate after testing positive for Covid. Despite this news, many English residents—but not most—plan to continue taking some of the precautions that have become commonplace (and legally required) during the pandemic. Once regulations end, 50% still intend to isolate if they test positive for Covid, and if they develop the virus’ symptoms, 49% say they will get tested and 41% say they will isolate. 45% of respondents also plan to continue avoiding very crowded spaces and 44% intend to continue wearing a face mask in public indoor spaces.

Russia launches invasion of Ukraine after Putin orders ‘specialised military operation’
Sky News | 24 February 2022

Our take: In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK and several allies have so far reacted by imposing new sanctions on Russia, an act which a majority (57%) in our poll last week said they would support if Russia were to invade, including 67% of Conservative voters and 52% of Labour voters. In the 16 February poll, there also existed a degree of support (39%) among the public for providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine, though 26% indicated they would oppose such a response to an invasion. When it comes to the option of deploying British and allied troops to Ukraine, opposition grows to 40%, whereas 24% said they would support sending troops.

R&WS in the Media

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

Poll: UK wary of sending troops to Ukraine
The Spectator | 17 February 2022

Britain should never seek a ‘special relationship’ with the EU, says Lord Frost
The Telegraph | 17 February 2022

Keir Starmer urges Boris Johnson to end ‘era of oligarch impunity’ – as it happened
The Guardian | 23 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. Tied lowest net approval rating we have recorded for Johnson. (21 Feb): (see full tweet)
  2. Johnson vs. Starmer (21 Feb): (see full tweet)
  3. Largest lead for Starmer over Sunak for better PM we have recorded. (21 Feb): (see full tweet)
  4. No policy area sees net approval for the Gov’t. (21 Feb): (see full tweet)
  5. Britons are more likely to trust the Conservatives (33%) than Labour (29%) to respond to the coronavirus crisis, and they are divided on which party they trust most to manage foreign affairs. (18 Feb): (see full tweet)

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