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 Rishi Sunak’s sinking approval ratings.

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Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention (5 February):

Labour 50% (+1)
Conservative 24% (-4)
Liberal Democrat 10% (+2)
Reform UK 6% (+1)
Green 5% (–)
SNP 3% (-1)
Other 2% (+1)

Changes +/- 29 January

Combined Net Approval Ratings (5 February):

Keir Starmer: +6% (-3)
Jeremy Hunt: -16% (-3)
Rishi Sunak: -20% (-2)

Changes +/- 29 January

This week’s Westminster voting intention poll finds Labour leading the Conservatives by 26%, the largest lead the party has held over the Conservatives since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. In all six voting intention polls we have published so far this year, Labour has led by 20 percentage points or more.

To make this national picture more concrete, our latest poll of the Red Wall—published on Tuesday this week—finds Labour with a commanding 23-point lead in a set of seats that they had lost by 9-points in 2019. If such polling were to be replicated in the next General Election, Labour would easily win back all of these seats.

Through November and December, as the Conservatives languished between 17% and 22% behind Labour in our national polling, Rishi Sunak’s net approval rating stood in the low negative single digits. Across seven polls between mid-November and early January, his approval rating was never higher than 0% nor lower than -4%.

In the last month, however, these ratings have cratered. This week, Rishi Sunak’s net approval rating has fallen to a new low of -20%, marking the fourth week in 2023 in which he has set a new lowest net approval rating for his job performance as Prime Minister.

In this issue of Magnified, we explore why.

Chart of the Week

In recent weeks, the issue of trans women’s access to female-only spaces has become a controversial topic of debate across Britain.

In Scotland, the SNP Government has come under fire for its handling of the Isla Bryson case. Bryson is a transwoman who was found guilty of raping two women in 2016 and 2019, when she still identified as a man.

Initially, Bryson, who has not had gender reassignment surgery, was housed in a female-only prison, before being moved to a male prison following a public outcry and a statement by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that Bryson was “almost certainly” faking being trans. 

In addition, the author J. K Rowling has announced that she is launching a new women-only support service for victims of sexual violence, saying that it is important that female survivors of sexual assault have the option of female-only care.

Our polling finds the British public largely in agreement with these developments. Majorities do not believe trans women should have access to Women’s prisons (65%), Women’s changing rooms (64%), and women-only gym & swimming sessions (63%) before undergoing surgery. A plurality (46%) likewise do not think trans women who have not undergone surgery should have access to rape crisis centres.

These latest polling results follow the Scottish parliament’s passage of a bill that makes it easier for transgender persons to change their sex, and the subsequent decision of the UK Government to block the bill’s entry into law. Pluralities of British voters both oppose the new Scottish legislation (38%) and approve of the UK Government’s move to block the bill (48%).

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

Rishi Sunak’s Approval Rating Plummets (Again)

Fundamentally, Rishi Sunak does not appear to understand what went wrong during Boris Johnson’s premiership, in which he had served as Chancellor for two and a half years. Whereas we have consistently argued that Boris Johnson’s failings were primarily policy failings and not personal failings, Rishi Sunak’s diagnosis appears to be the opposite. 

Hence, when Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, his opening speech referenced the external causes of the problems facing the United Kingdom, namely the Covid pandemic, the disruptions in the global supply chain, and the war in Ukraine. He acknowledged the mistakes of his direct predecessor, Liz Truss, but made no direct mention of the mistakes of his true predecessor, Boris Johnson.

Instead, obliquely referring to the personal scandals of the late-Johnson period, he pledged that his Government “will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

In terms of policy, he therefore offered no fundamental change from the Johnson period. Rather, he simply re-committed his Government to the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto, declaring, “I will deliver on its promise.” Never mind the fact that, apart from ‘getting Brexit done,’ the 2019 manifesto is rather vague on policy.

Three months on from that opening speech, the Sunak government thus appears directionless and lacks the urgency needed to address problems that they believe are primarily driven by external factors—a diagnosis that the majority of the public disagrees with.

Sunak’s economic priorities for 2023 are to “halve inflation,” something which is already forecast to happen without any government intervention and to “grow the economy,” an objective declared without the slightest detail of how much growth he hopes to achieve or, more importantly, how he intends to spur it.

Strikes have roiled the country in the time since Sunak took office. Industrial disputes have now mushroomed across a range of public services, from nurses, ambulance drivers, and teachers, to border force agents, and civil servants. Yet, only 29% of voters in mid-January believed Sunak was extremely (5%) or fairly (24%) involved in attempting to resolve ongoing industrial disputes, while 49% agreed that he has been absent.

Thus, as the IMF predicts that Britain will be the only advanced economy in the world to contract this year, estimating a decline in GDP of 0.6% in 2023, 67% of voters do not think the government is currently taking the right measures to address the cost-of-living crisis, while more than 7-in-10 British voters agree the Prime Minister is out of touch with the struggles of ordinary families.

Things are no better in the NHS, where a record number of over 7 million Britons are now on waiting lists for treatment. Asked in January who was most to blame for this massive backlog, 46% of voters selected the Government, well ahead of the coronavirus pandemic (20%) in second place. The Prime Minister’s response has been to promise voters that “NHS waiting lists will fall.” But how will this be done? Again, no detail has been provided.

In short, there is still no definable policy framework behind ‘Sunakism,’ nor any impression of dynamism or drive coming from the top. Sunak’s lack of visible urgency and the vague, unspecific nature of his policy commitments has done nothing to re-assure the public that the Government has any plan to tackle the big issues facing them. 

Consequently, on the four most important issues voters say will determine how they vote at the next election—the NHS, the economy, education, and immigration—the Government currently holds dismal net approval ratings of -47%, -37%, -27%, and -39%, respectively. 

These policy struggles notwithstanding, Sunak’s Government has also shown no improvement in terms of avoiding the personal scandals that beset the Johnson Government.

In a little over one hundred days, one minister has resigned over historic bullying allegations—charges which have also been made by dozens of civil servants against the Deputy Prime Minister—the Party Chairman has been sacked over his tax arrangements, and the Home Secretary’s re-appointment to Cabinet—despite previously resigning for breaching the ministerial code—has become a lightning rod for criticism.

Despite his claims to have acted decisively over the Zahawi affair, only 29% of voters when asked on 1 February approved of his handling of the issue, against 34% who disapproved. Between the Conservatives and Labour, 38% of Britons associate sleaze with the Conservatives compared to 9% who associate the term with Labour.

A plurality (44%) of voters now disagree that Sunak has upheld the values of integrity, professionalism, and accountability as Prime Minister, with only 27% agreeing that he has. More 2019 Conservative voters disagree (36%) than agree (33%) that he has upheld those values. 

In short, Sunak’s pitch when he became Prime Minister was essentially that he would continue with the policy agenda of Boris Johnson, while being a more presentable, polished, less chaotic Prime Minister. Yet, it was the policy agenda of Boris Johnson that needed change, and despite his promises otherwise, Sunak’s Government is similarly mired in a number of personal scandals—something that would matter less if his Government was actually delivering.

R&WS in the Media

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

Cabinet reshuffle will make Rishi Sunak even weaker
The Financial Times | 7 February 2023

Poll: public want a ‘modest’ coronation
The Spectator | 6 February 2023

For Trump, one step forward, two steps back
The Hill | 5 February 2023

Sunak more popular than Boris but Westminster’s ‘culture of sleaze’ still a threat to PM
The Sunday Express | 4 February 2023

Tory meltdown in the ‘Blue Wall’: Jeremy Hunt hints tax cuts won’t come until NEXT YEAR
MailOnline | 1 February 2023

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