Good Thursday afternoon, 

It’s time to take a look at the polls! Each week, Magnified delivers insights and analysis straight to your inbox, allowing you to stay up to date on what the public think about the most important issues of the day. Keep reading for the latest updates on our weekly trackers, as well as our national and international polls. Today, we also take an in-depth look at how the public views the role scientific advisers have played in policymaking throughout the pandemic—and what this means for elected politicians. 

This week, our research also covered: 

  • European views on Brexit
  • Voting behaviour and party loyalty among 2019 Conservative and Labour voters
  • UK-Australia trade deal support/oppose
  • Britons’ views on matters of taxation

Snapshot: Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(28 June):

Conservative 41% (-3)
Labour 34% (+1)
Liberal Democrat 9% (-1)
Scottish National Party 5% (+1)
Green 5% (+1)
Reform UK 3% (–)
Other 2% (-1)

Changes +/- 21 June

Net Approval Rating
(28 June):

Rishi Sunak: +32% (+8)
Boris Johnson: -2% (-5)
Keir Starmer: -7% (+5)

Changes +/- 21 June

Our latest Voting Intentions poll gives the Conservatives a seven-point lead over Labour, with 41% (-3) of voters saying they would vote for the Conservative Party if an election were to be held now. Yet, Boris Johnson’s net approval rating has gone down to -2%. With a five-point drop week-on-week, these results mark the Prime Minister’s first negative net approval rating since February. 

Taking a longer-term view, these results suggest that the Government’s—in particular the Prime Minister’s—handling of the pandemic remains one of the main factors determining approval and disapproval. Johnson’s net approval rating had been negative from September 2020 through to February 2021—when the pace of the coronavirus vaccination rollout in the UK quickened. Our previous research has shown that large majorities of Britons are satisfied with the UK’s vaccination programme, and such high levels of satisfaction are likely to have boosted the Government’s competency ratings and net approval of the Prime Minister. Over time, however, as the public has got used to the success of the UK’s vaccination programme, the latter may have lost its ‘exceptional’ nature and therefore stopped to further improve perceptions of the Prime Minister and his handling of the pandemic. As such, when case numbers started rising again in May, Johnson’s net approval rating began to decline. Aggravated by the prospect of a third wave and the recent scandal surrounding former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his breaching of social distancing rules, this negative trend has continued, making the Prime Minister’s net approval rating drop below zero for the first time in nearly five months.  

Aperture: Other Data You Should Be Aware Of

Great Britain: 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds say their financial situation has worsened during the pandemic, yet a plurality (41%) of respondents belonging to this age group also say that overall, their lives have improved compared to before the pandemic. Read more here

Great Britain: 45% of Britons think the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU in 2016—a figure that includes 13% of Britons who say they voted to remain a member of the EU.

Italy: 43% of Italians think the UK public made the right decision in deciding to leave the EU in 2016. This result is at odds with views in other European countries, as 42% of French respondents, 48% of German respondents, and 61% of Spanish respondents think the UK public made the wrong decision. Read more here

Great Britain: 64% of Britons who are aware of the UK-Australia trade deal support it, with 57% thinking signing this agreement would not have been possible without Brexit. Read more here.

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! 

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Blame Game: The Accountability Dilemma Facing Elected Politicians In Pandemic Policymaking

The coronavirus pandemic has brought medical experts—be they virologists, epidemiologists or public health scholars—to the forefront of policymaking. The UK Government’s scientific advisers provide a clear illustration of this. While the expertise of such professionals can be an important resource to elected politicians, their direct involvement in policymaking also presents a number of challenges. As the pandemic has repeatedly shown, the Government’s scientific advisers are far from infallible—they, too, make mistakes. Yet, in the eyes of the public, it is largely politicians that are held responsible for these mistakes and their consequences. This faulty attribution of accountability means elected politicians face a dilemma—unable to ascertain the accuracy of the scientific advice they receive, they are nevertheless compelled to stake their political reputation on this very advice.  

In a procedural sense, the role of scientific advisers is to make recommendations that can then inform policy—not dictate it. Yet, our research finds that scientific recommendations can quickly turn into political obligations in the eyes of the public: We find that 59% of respondents agree that the Prime Minister should always implement whatever policy his scientific advisers recommend—a proposition with which only 12% of respondents disagree. Indeed, these results appear to be reflective of a generally more positive and trustful base disposition towards the Government’s scientific advisers than the Government itself. As such, the Government’s scientific advisers generally enjoy higher approval ratings than various Government officials themselves: Whereas 42% of Britons approve of Boris Johnson’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, 56% and 54% of respondents approve of Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s response to the coronavirus crisis, respectively. 

The high regard in which the Government’s scientific advisers are held by the public is also evident from a retrospective ‘halo effect’ when it comes to how Britons remember the advice given by the Government’s scientific advisers during the early stages of the pandemic. Indeed, we find that 68% of the public think the coronavirus pandemic was allowed to spread so severely in the UK because the scientific advice initially given to the UK Government was not followed, compared to only 32% of respondents who think the coronavirus pandemic was allowed to spread so severely in the UK because the scientific advice initially given to the UK Government was wrong. More specifically, a majority of 56% of respondents think that the Government’s scientific advisers advised for a lockdown in early March 2020 and that the Government rejected this advice, whereas only 22% think the Government’s scientific advisers advised against a lockdown and that the Government accepted this advice. Similarly, 46% say that the Government’s scientific advisers’ initial recommendation in early 2020 was to wear a face mask covering mouth and nose but that the UK did not follow this recommendation. A significantly lower proportion of 37% of respondents remember that the initial recommendation was not to wear a face mask covering mouth and notes, advice which most of the UK did follow. 

What is even more problematic for elected politicians, however, is that ‘following scientific advice’ is no way for the Government to abdicate political responsibility. Indeed, despite a certain sense among the public that the scientific advisers did not always get everything right, we observe a tendency among the public to treat them—but not the Government—with impunity: 60% of respondents agree that the scientists advising the Government made mistakes during the coronavirus pandemic (compared to 20% who think they have not and 20% who don’t know). However, an almost equal proportion (58%) of the public thinks that whenever it turns out the scientists advising the Government have made a mistake, the Prime Minister is still culpable for having followed their erroneous advice, compared to 42% who think otherwise. Indeed, when asked who should be held accountable for what went wrong during the coronavirus pandemic, 39% of respondents say politicians, compared to only 11% who say the scientists advising the Government. A further 28% say both should be held accountable equally. Thus, the Government finds itself in a difficult position: if its acts on the advice received and things go well, credit is likely to go to its scientific advisers rather than the Government itself. Yet, if the Government follows the advice received and things go wrong, it is the Government that is blamed.

For elected politicians, these findings mean that bringing in scientific advisers and giving them a prominent role in policymaking is a decision not to be taken lightly, as doing so has two key implications. Firstly, given the public’s trusting attitude towards the Government’s scientific advisers may turn scientific recommendations into political obligations, thereby narrowing down the Government’s room for manoeuvre in policymaking while also blurring lines of accountability. Secondly, and as a consequence, elected politicians are confronted with the problem that they cannot themselves verify the accuracy of the scientific advice they receive, yet are compelled to stake their political reputation on this very advice by having to base their policy decisions on it.

It is clear that no easy solution to this dilemma exists. Yet, increasing transparency—beyond publishing the minutes of SAGE meetings—may be a helpful step. Certainly, increasing transparency regarding possible disagreements—be they among scientists or among Government ministers—may risk undermining the reassuring picture of determined and united action that a Government would usually seek to project during a crisis situation such as a global pandemic. Nevertheless, being more open not only about who advised whom in which way but also about the unknowns involved in making certain policy decisions may be one of the few ways for elected politicians to confront this dilemma they find themselves in. Such increased transparency may not necessarily lead voters to blame them less for their mistakes, but it may help to underscore the point that scientific advisers are not omniscient demi-gods but rather fallible humans, just like politicians. In the end, increasing public awareness of this fact may be the first step towards re-establishing clearer lines of accountability.

Perspective: The RWS Take on the News 

Politico:Macron faces crushing defeat in local elections” 

  • OUR TAKE: In France’s recent regional elections, both Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National and Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République En Marche failed to make the gains they were hoping for, casting a shadow over both politicians’ prospects for next year’s Presidential Election. In fact, the findings of our latest research conducted in France corroborate this negative view: nearly half (47%) of the public have an unfavourable view of Emmanuel Macron, and 45% also have an unfavourable view of Marine Le Pen, suggesting that the road to victory in next year’s election is long for either of them. Read more about the French public’s views on Emmanuel Macron and the French Government here.

The Economist:Paradise lost: Twilight of the tax haven

  • OUR TAKE: The introduction of a global minimum corporate tax rate, as agreed at the recent G7 Summit in Cornwall, could have negative implications for countries such as Ireland or Hungary whose ‘business model’ is reliant on low corporate tax rates. In the UK, however, our latest research finds that a global minimum corporate tax rate is supported by two thirds (64%) of the public—with 79% agreeing that global tech firms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google should pay more tax. Read more in Britons’ views on the introduction of a global minimum corporate tax rate here

The Times:HS2 rail costs rise another £1.7bn in Covid pandemic

  • OUR TAKE: This additional rise in costs is likely to be met critically by a large proportion of the public. In our latest research, we found that 56% of Britons see HS2 as a bad investment that does not represent value for money, and nearly half (48%) of respondents think the project should be scrapped. Read more about attitudes towards HS2 here.

7 Days in the media

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

Rishi Sunak must confiscate the Government’s credit card, say Tory voters
The Telegraph | 26 June 2021

Biden’s Surge Could Flip the Senate — and Boost His Presidency
City A.M. | 25 June 2021

Brexit 5 years on: ‘We would have you back,’ says Europe, in new poll
Euronews | 23 June 2021

European public back indyref2 within a year, new poll reveals
The National | 23 June 2021

Most Read Case Studies This Week

Latest GB Voting Intention (28 June 2021)
28 June 2021 (5 min read)

Two-Thirds of Britons Support UK-Australia Trade Deal, With Over Half Thinking Deal Would Have Been Impossible Without Brexit
22 June 2021 (8 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (21 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (13 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Latest GB Voting Intention (7 June 2021)
21 June 2021 (5 min read)

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 This Week

On the whole, compared to before the coronavirus pandemic, would Britons say their lives have improved or worsened? (see full tweet)

At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? (28 June): (see full tweet)

Keir Starmer Approval Rating (28 June): (see full tweet)

How has the coronavirus pandemic positively disrupted the lives of Britons and their families? (see full tweet)

How would the French, German, Italian, and Spanish publics vote in a referendum to leave the EU? (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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