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 Conservative Party leadership contest represents the public airing of an internal debate held for months within Boris Johnson’s government and the lessons to learn from this transition.

This week, our research also covered:

  • The increasing importance of the economy and taxes to British voters
  • A petition to put Boris Johnson’s resignation to a Membership vote
  • Biden tries to dodge the term ‘recession’

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
(27 July):

Labour 41% (+1)
Conservative 33% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 11% (-1)
Green 5% (–)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 4% (+1)
Other 2% (–)

Changes +/- 24 July

All Net Approval Ratings
(27 July):

Keir Starmer: -10% (-3)
Boris Johnson: -15% (+4)

Changes +/- 24 July

Amidst the first week of the Conservative leadership contest, Liz Truss continues to narrowly lead Rishi Sunak in our polling of the British public (35% to 29%) and of those who voted Conservative in 2019 (42% to 33%). 

More significantly, the gap between Truss and Labour Leader Keir Starmer has narrowed to a single percentage point. 34% say Starmer would be the better Prime Minister for the UK at this moment, while 33% say Truss. Another 33% say they don’t know. Meanwhile, Starmer maintains a 7-percentage point lead over Rishi Sunak (39% to 32%).

To be sure, the polling differences outlined above do not concern the critical constituency of voters: members of the Conservative Party. Furthermore, with several weeks of campaigning, debates, and interviews to go, much can still change in either direction.

That said, it is clear that Liz Truss has had a very strong start to the Conservative Party’s leadership contest. With her clear message and regular coverage, public awareness of her and what she stands for is steadily growing, with an increasing number of respondents saying they are familiar with her and saying they have seen enough of her to have made a fair judgement of her.

She has neutralised Rishi Sunak’s strengths in presentation. Whereas the public and Conservative voters are more likely to find Mr. Sunak to be ‘charming’ and ‘confident,’ Liz Truss more often comes across to voters as the one who is ‘modest,’ ‘genuine,’ ‘trustworthy,’ and ‘in touch with normal people.’ 

Such a contrast in personalities lends itself well to the contrast between Truss’ and Sunak’s respective economic policies. With the United Kingdom facing a bevy of economic problems—a recurring theme in Magnified—Rishi Sunak’s projected confidence increasingly comes across as a false sort of confidence, a confidence that does not seem to quite understand the seriousness of the economic problems the country faces.

A week ago, nearly twice as many members of the public thought Rishi Sunak (42%), rather than Liz Truss (22%), would ‘do the most to grow the economy.’ Among 2019 Conservative voters, Sunak led Truss by 15 percentage points: 46% to 31%. As of yesterday, Liz Truss now leads, narrowly, on this question: 34% to 32% among the public and 38% to 35% among 2019 Conservative voters—an incredible reversal.

Can Rishi Sunak regain his footing on what was supposed to be an area of strength following more than two years as Chancellor of the Exchequer? Read more below to find out why this trend is likely to continue to move in Liz Truss’ favour. 

Data Tables

Chart of the Week

The economy is more important to voters than it has ever been in the past year, with 63% of Britons citing it as one of three major determinants of how they would vote in a general election, higher than healthcare at 52%. In addition, the importance of taxation, itself a subset of the various policies that comprise ‘the economy,’ to the general public has more than doubled in the past year from 12% to 29%. 

Such increases in the electoral salience of the economy and taxation correspond to the dramatic increases in the cost of living in the United Kingdom (9% inflation year-on-year since April) and the rise in taxation to their highest level in decades. 

In short, these figures should spell trouble for the governing Conservative Party. After all, far fewer people would cite the economy or taxation as major issues that would determine how they would vote in a General Election if things were going well economically and if taxes were reasonable.

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

An Internal Debate Publicly Aired at Last

When Rishi Sunak resigned from his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Boris Johnson’s government, he did not cite, as Sajid Javid had, his values and his integrity as a cause of his resignation. His letter to the Prime Minister did not at all allude to ‘pincher-gate,’ the scandal that finally instigated Boris Johnson’s own resignation.

No, Rishi Sunak instead alluded to a profound, irreconcilable difference in policy between himself and the Prime Minister as the key reason for his resignation. “In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different,” he wrote.

This resignation letter was the culmination of months and months of internal conflict between Boris Johnson and his Chancellor, not regarding their views on Boris Johnson’s repeated character failings, but regarding their approaches to the economy and to taxation in particular. 

Above all, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister disagreed on how to address the £400 billion hole in the Government’s budget that had been blown by massive public spending during the coronavirus pandemic. The Chancellor believed, earnestly, that the country should not saddle its future generations with more public debt. The bill ought to be paid now.

For this reason, Rishi Sunak was a tax-raising Chancellor. He increased national insurance contributions, and his budget planned an increase in corporation tax from 19% to 25%. Critically, he has implemented a five-year freeze on personal tax thresholds—a ‘stealth tax’ that, in effect, increases income taxes on the public as wages increase in line with inflation.

By consequence, the UK’s tax burden has become the highest it has been since the 1950s, and the Conservative Party has, as we wrote in early February, lost its reputation for low taxes. As illustrated in the chart above, taxation has risen to the third most important issue for voters in Great Britain.

On the day that Boris Johnson resigned, 49% of the public, including 30% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, said they did ‘not at all’ trust his government on taxation. Only on immigration and—you guessed it—the economy did more members of the public say they did ‘not at all’ trust Johnson’s government to deliver. This extensive distrust was a direct consequence of the decisions that Rishi Sunak had pushed through as Chancellor.  

We do not know how exactly Boris Johnson might have approached taxation and economic policy differently had he had a different Chancellor, but it is clear, from Rishi Sunak’s resignation letter and from various media reports, that Boris Johnson did want to pursue a different course. 

In the end, however, Johnson had to resign before he could push forward with his preferred economic approach with a new Chancellor. His government is therefore still implementing his former Chancellor’s economic and tax policies.

But now Rishi Sunak must face the public. What we have so far seen in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest is the public airing of this internal debate between Johnson and Sunak, albeit with Liz Truss serving as a sort of stand-in or standard-bearer for Johnson.

Previously, Rishi Sunak could share the responsibility for his tax increases with the Prime Minister. In February, he even attempted to dub the increase in national insurance contributions, “the Prime Minister’s tax.” And indeed, 28% of the public at the time associated the decision to increase national insurance contributions with the Prime Minister, while a further 29% associated the decision with both the Prime Minister and his Chancellor.

With Rishi Sunak forced to defend his stances on taxation amidst the Conservative Party’s leadership contest, he can no longer hide behind a Prime Minister. 51% of the public, including 56% of 2019 Conservative voters, now associate this decision to increase national insurance contributions exclusively with the former Chancellor.

Moreover, the public has come to intuit Rishi Sunak as the candidate most committed to the current tax and economic policy regime. For instance, 52% of voters in the Red Wall seats that the Conservative Party won in 2019 think Liz Truss, rather than Rishi Sunak, would cut taxes the most if she became Prime Minister.

Before the public, instead of merely before the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, the former Chancellor finds himself on the losing side of an internal tax debate he had won. As a result, Liz Truss has been able to successfully pitch herself, simultaneously, as a candidate for change and as the true successor to Boris Johnson, a combination that will be extraordinarily difficult for Rishi Sunak to overcome. 

Which brings us back to Boris Johnson. Why did the Prime Minister accept economic and tax policies with which he disagreed? Why did he not re-shuffle or even sack Rishi Sunak when the opportunity arose in April of this year? 

The strong start to Liz Truss’ leadership campaign, with its focus on cutting taxes and avoiding a recession contrasting powerfully with Rishi Sunak’s pitch to essentially continue existing policies, clearly demonstrates that Boris Johnson would have won a public fight with his Chancellor, had he chosen to pick one. 

Instead, Johnson shied away from such conflicts and therefore failed to change course on an exceptionally unpopular set of policies. For that, he only has himself to blame.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

We want a vote to keep Boris Johnson as PM, demand Tory members
The Telegraph | 19 July 2022

OUR TAKE: More than 10,000 members of the Conservative Party have petitioned for a vote on whether to accept or reject Boris Johnson’s resignation. When asked if there should be such a vote, half of those who voted Conservative in 2019 (exactly 50%) say, yes, there should be. However, a plurality of 46% of the public, including 39% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, say no, there should only be a vote regarding Johnson’s successor.

Biden fights talk of recession as key economic report looms
AP News | 26 July 2022

OUR TAKE: President Biden’s Administration has resisted the description of two consecutive quarters of negative growth as a recession. His insistence will likely lead to much derision. Our polling finds Biden’s approval rating on the economy at -24% net. Virtually twice as many Americans disapprove (50%) as approve (26%) of his economic performance. 48% say Biden has handled the economy worse than Donald Trump against just 29% who say he has handled it better. With the economy slated to be one of the most important issues in this year’s midterm election, such polling is bleak for the Democratic Party. 

R&WS in the Media

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

Biden and Trump’s strange co-dependent political lives
The Hill | 24 July 2022

Tory leadership race: Voters believe Keir Starmer would be better PM than Sunak and Truss
The Telegraph | 28 July 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. At this moment, which of the following individuals do Red Wall voters think would be the better PM for the United Kingdom? (26 July): (see full tweet)
  2. At this moment, which of the following individuals do voters think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? (25 July): (see full tweet)
  3. Would Britons say they have seen enough of the following individuals in the news to have made a fair judgment of them? (24 July): (see full tweet)
  4. Which of the following individuals do Conservative Red Wall voters think would be the better PM for the United Kingdom? (26 July): (see full tweet)
  5. Would British voters prefer the Government spends more money and increases taxes or spends less money and reduces taxes? (24 July): (see full tweet)

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