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 thinks 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 the issue of Scottish independence and demonstrate the likely arguments both sides of the debate will use to make their case.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ views on the economic situation in the UK
  • US Federal Government approval ratings
  • Americans’ opinions on online privacy

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(27 Sept):

Conservative 41% (–)
Labour 35% (–)
Liberal Democrat 10% (+2)
Green 5% (-2)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 3% (–)
Other 2% (–)

Changes +/- 20 Sept

All Net Approval Ratings
(27 Sept):

Rishi Sunak: +16% (+2)
Boris Johnson: -6% (-1)
Keir Starmer: -13% (+3

Changes +/- 20 Sept

Our latest Voting Intention poll gives the Conservatives a six-point lead over Labour, with 41% (no change) of voters saying they would vote for the Conservative Party if an election were to be held tomorrow. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating remains negative (-6%), as does the Government’s net competency rating (-14%).

Last week, we noted that Keir Starmer’s net approval rating—currently standing at -13%—has seen a precipitous decline since June 2020. Yet, Starmer is not the only one who has experienced this downwards trajectory.

While much less picked up on by the media, Rishi Sunak’s popularity has seen a similarly dramatic decline over time. Though the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s net approval rating currently stands at a still healthy +16%, it is a far cry from the +57% rating we recorded for Sunak in April 2020 or even the +35% approval rating we recorded more recently in July 2021.

In contrast to Starmer, Sunak has certainly benefitted from the coronavirus pandemic in public opinion terms. Just weeks after his appointment, the UK entered its first national lockdown, and Sunak’s initial response in the form of a £330 billion business loan package proved immensely popular. In July 2020, for instance, 61% of Britons thought the furlough scheme—the plan’s centrepiece—had been a success. One year later, in June 2021, this proportion had increased even further, to 69%.

However, widespread popularity across voters from different parties was always going to be difficult to sustain. As Sunak has become more attached to this Conservative Government, rather than being seen as somewhat apart from it, his popularity has waned. More party-oriented decisions such as the latest increase in National Insurance tax to fund social care have seen approval for the Chancellor among opposition party voters reverse entirely: our latest poll finds that Sunak’s approval rating among 2019 Labour voters stands at -16%, in stark contrast to the +21% approval he saw among this group of voters on 5 July.

Even so, the decline in Sunak’s net approval rating will not yet cause any real political difficulties for him, and his political future within the Conservative Party remains promising. Among Conservative voters, his approval ratings have only slightly worsened. He is, in fact, the only Conservative Government Minister to poll positively in the double digits among the broader public, speaking to his comparative popularity. While 35% of Britons currently think Boris Johnson is the better Prime Minister for the UK, an almost equal proportion of 32% think Rishi Sunak would be the better Prime Minister. And on several occasions in the autumn and winter of 2020, and once this past summer, Sunak even polled above Johnson for better Prime Minister.

Chart of the Week

Among our tracker polling questions, we ask respondents how much they align with the views of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in several key policy areas, on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 5 (completely).

As the above chart illustrates, 2019 Conservative voters are, on average, most aligned with their party with respect to its approaches to the coronavirus pandemic and to the economy. 2019 Labour voters, on the other hand, tend to be most aligned with their party on the NHS.

Also of note are the differences between how each voting group aligns with their respective party. The average alignment of the Conservative voter with the Conservative Party in the areas of housing and immigration stands at a relatively low 2.7 out of 5 for each, in comparison to how much Labour voters align with their own party on these issues (3.2 and 3.1 respectively). Defence and Scotland, meanwhile, see the reverse outcome, with Labour voters not particularly aligned with their party on these issues (2.6 and 2.8), in contrast to stronger alignment among Conservative voters with the Conservative Party (3.0 and 3.2).

Though not displayed in this chart, lack of alignment is somewhat more pronounced for Conservative voters looking at the Labour Party, ranging from 1.3 to 1.6 out of 5, than it is for Labour voters evaluating the Conservative Party, ranging from 1.6 to 1.8, on all issues bar the NHS and housing. As such, these two areas are of particular strength for Labour, while Conservative voters’ displeasure on the issue of immigration appears unlikely to be capitalised on by the main opposition party. Meanwhile, defence, Scotland, and the economy are areas of strengths for the Conservatives—as is, perhaps surprisingly to some, the coronavirus pandemic.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: Nearly half (49%) of employed or self-employed Britons agree they would find it difficult to find work in their industry if they had to leave their current job. At the same time, a plurality (42%) also agrees that they or their employer are currently finding it difficult to find qualified candidates for job openings in their company, suggesting a possible labour market mismatch.

United States: President Joe Biden’s performance on the coronavirus pandemic enjoys a net approval rating of +21%, but his performance on other policy areas is judged significantly more critically, with a -6% net approval rating on immigration, for example. Read more here.

United States: Americans across ten states have mixed views on Apple’s proposed new tool that will be able to scan private photos on all Apple devices in search of content related to specific criminal activities. Opposition to this tool is often the plurality position, ranging from 31% in California to 41% in Arizona. Critically, 36% in California to 52% in Arizona say they do not trust Apple to use this tool only for its stated purpose of preventing the exploitation of children. Read more about Americans’ trust in tech companies and concerns about online privacy here.

Germany: In early September, a plurality of 29% of Germans said they would prefer to see Social Democratic Party (SPD) nominee Olaf Scholz become the country’s next Chancellor. With the SPD having received the highest number of votes (25.7%) in last week’s Federal Election, this scenario has now gained in probability—though coalition talks are only just beginning.

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

IndyRef2: How Both Sides of the Campaign May Argue Their Case

Last week, our Scottish independence voting intention poll found that 47% of Scots would vote ‘no’ and 44% would vote ‘yes’ to Scotland becoming an independent country, if a referendum were to be held tomorrow, while 9% don’t know how they would vote. These latest figures show that the issue of Scottish independence has not lost any of its contentiousness since 2014, when 55.3% of Scots voted against and 44.7% voted for independence. With the possibility of a second referendum on the table, both sides are already developing the key arguments around which they will structure their campaigns. What could those arguments look like?

For the pro-independence side, securing a second referendum will be half the battle. Currently, 43% of Scots, a plurality, agree that Scotland should only hold a second referendum on independence if the UK Government agrees to it—including a quarter (26%) of those who would vote ‘yes’ to Scottish independence. Ensuring the democratic legitimacy of a second vote in the public eye is thus one of the ‘yes’ side’s foremost challenges.

Threatening to take the case to the Supreme Court (where it would likely lose anyway) is unlikely to win the pro-independence side any favour, with voters or with Westminster. While a conciliatory stance towards the UK Government may be difficult for pro-independence forces to stomach, more targeted and constructive—rather than broad and reflexive—criticism of Westminster may be the most productive route to explore.

In the meantime, a key argument for the pro-independence side will be competence. Indeed, we find First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a positive net approval rating of +14% among Scots. More specifically, the Scottish Government sees a positive net approval rating in several key policy areas, such as the coronavirus pandemic (+38%), the NHS (+15%), the environment (+14%), and the economy (+6%). These favourable views will be key to making the case that the Scottish Government can govern an independent Scotland effectively.

By contrast, the decidedly negative views Scots have of nearly every Westminster politician—including the current Prime Minister, every recent Prime Minister going as far back as Tony Blair, and their respective opposition leaders—will further help this argument. Scottish respondents give the Westminster Government overall a net competency rating of -20%, for instance, and at -38%, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating is even more dramatically negative, altogether providing a clear opposition target for the pro-independence side to launch its attacks and rally its supporters around.

That not only views of the Conservative Party but also of the Labour Party are negative in Scotland demonstrates that a change in the situation in Westminster favourable enough to Scots is not feasible. Whether negative views of the Labour Party are driven by disagreement with its policy stances or simply by a lack of confidence in the Party’s ability to win elections in the first place, the pro-independence side will use this unfavorability to argue that independence is the only way to remedy Scots’ political dissatisfaction with Westminster.

Finally, differences in broader political attitudes between Scotland and the rest of the UK, most dramatically reflected in the EU Referendum, will be another key component. In the 2016 referendum, 62% of Scottish voters voted Remain. Even today, 60% of Scots would vote for the UK to join the EU, if a referendum on the matter were to be held tomorrow. Pro-independence forces will argue that Scotland should no longer be subjected to the tyranny of the (mainly English) majority that often dictates its political fate.

The argument for the pro-independence side here is altogether evident: Westminster lacks democratic support in Scotland; Holyrood does not. To remedy this imbalance, vote for Scottish independence.

For those who do not want Scotland to become an independent country, the most straightforward way of thwarting the above arguments is to deny Scotland a second referendum outright—the UK Government’s current strategy. The 2014 referendum was supposed to be a “once in a generation” vote. Do seven or eight years really count as a generation?

Yet, denying a second referendum will not make the issue go away, and waiting until a referendum does take place to make the case against independence will result in a losing situation. What could a longer-term strategy look like?

Emphasising a common British identity is a key starting point. Not being able to credibly refer to a common European identity was one of the biggest weaknesses of the Remain campaign in 2016. The pro-Union side, however, can make a strong claim towards a common identity. Whereas EU citizens would have never been allowed to vote in a referendum on EU membership, 64% of respondents in Scotland think British citizens who live in Scotland but are originally from elsewhere in the UK should be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence, as they were in 2014—suggesting a still widely recognised overlap in ‘Scottish’ and ‘British’ political identities. This common ground should be at the centre of the pro-Union campaign.

Along these lines, the pro-Union campaign should stress instances where cooperation between Westminster and Holyrood has been beneficial to Scotland. Here, the coronavirus vaccine rollout is one example: 60% of Scots agree that the successful early procurement of vaccines by the UK Government demonstrates the benefits of the Union, while only 13% disagree.

Finding further areas for cooperation—while also subtly pointing out the areas in which the Scottish Government is perceived to be less competent—could complement this point. Despite positive net approval ratings in some policy areas, Scots are critical of their devolved Government’s performance on issues such as drug policy (-18%), housing (-15%), and crime/policing (-2%). To underscore the beneficial effects of the Union, Westminster may launch specific initiatives to help Scotland deal with these issues. Here, it would be wise to tread carefully, however, as overly assertive intervention or failure to produce positive results could backfire and exacerbate the case against Westminster.

Similarly, Westminster would be wise to steer clear of promises of further devolution. If the UK Government devolved further powers to Holyrood, only 19% of Scots say it would make them less likely to support Scottish independence. By contrast, 27% say it would make them more likely to support Scottish independence, and 48% say it would make them neither more nor less likely to do so. Rather than appease pro-independence forces, doing so may thus in fact have the opposite effect, by inviting the rebuke, “If we can be entrusted with so many responsibilities, why should we not be entrusted with everything?”

What of economic arguments in this debate? Questions such as what currency an independent Scotland would adopt, how it would address its fiscal deficit, and to what extent North Sea oil revenues could keep its economy afloat all matter, of course. But one lesson both sides can learn from the EU Referendum is that economic arguments, based off of specific economic models or hypothetical scenarios, can be a double-edged sword.

For the pro-independence side, presenting specific policy scenarios, such as Scotland potentially adopting the Euro upon independence, is a worse strategy than presenting independence as opening the door to a variety of future possibilities. Voters will have differing visions as to what economic policies an independent Scotland should pursue, and their broad support will be lost if the pro-independence side campaigns around a singular vision.

For the pro-Union side, placing emphasis on the potential costs of a split is unlikely to appeal to already disaffected and disillusioned voters, as we saw in the 2016 EU Referendum. Dwelling further on a future scenario of an independent Scotland, even in a negative light, also inadvertently brings voters to ‘think past the sale.’ Falling into ‘what if?’ arguments, rather than putting forth a positive outlook of the still existing Union, would therefore be a losing strategy for the pro-Union side. Arguments related to national identity, common ground, and mutual respect will be much more powerful drivers of a ‘no’ vote.

Lastly, unity will be vital for both campaigns. If Labour, for instance, decides to take a neutral stance, it would deal a serious blow to the pro-Union side’s chances of winning. Similarly, on the pro-independence side, internal rifts—such as those seen previously between Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor as First Minister Alex Salmond—would take away from their campaign’s persuasiveness. Avoiding internal cracks from becoming apparent will thus be crucial for both sides.

With no shortage of arguments on either side, presentation will matter just as much as content. How well each side does at presenting a united image may make or break that side’s campaign—and ultimately make the difference between a Kingdom united or a Kingdom divided.

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

“Labour will not back proportional representation despite members’ support”
Politics UK | 28 September 2021

Our take: A motion calling for the next Labour Government to replace the UK’s first past the post system with a form of proportional representation for future elections was defeated at the Labour Party’s recent annual conference. While 80% of constituency Labour Parties backed the motion, 95% of mainly Trade Union affiliates opposed it, resulting in an overall vote of 58% against the motion. Yet, when we polled the British public on this issue earlier this year, we found that a plurality of 44% would support replacing the first past the post system with a system of proportional representation—including 52% of 2019 Labour voters and 35% of 2019 Conservative voters. 30% of the public overall adopted a neutral position, while only 15% opposed such a change. Can the Labour Party continue to resist adopting a platform that many of its own voters and even some Conservatives would support?

“California becomes 8th U.S. state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent”
Reuters | 27 September 2021

Our take: California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill earlier this week stipulating that every registered voter in California will receive a mail-in ballot in future elections, making permanent a change already adopted for the 2020 Presidential Election and the recent Gubernatorial Recall Election in the context of the pandemic. Our polling suggests this move will be well received by California voters, especially Democratic ones. In the run-up to the state’s Gubernatorial Recall Election earlier this month, 67% overall—including 72% of 2020 Joe Biden voters and 58% of 2020 Donald Trump voters—indicated they were going to vote by mail in the election. California is also the state with the highest degree of trust in the mail-in process among the ones we polled in August: A strong plurality (47%) of Californians disagree that postal voting provides too much of an opportunity for electoral fraud, compared to 29% who agree and 20% who neither agree nor disagree.

R&WS in the Media

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

Poll: Scots not confident UK can hit net-zero climate target
Politico | 21 September 2021

Universal credit: Poll shows almost half of voters believe uplift should remain
iNews | 23 September 2021

Fact check: how popular is Insulate Britain?
The Spectator | 27 September 2021

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!

Most Read on Our Website This Week

Latest GB Voting Intention (27 September 2021)
27 September 2021 (5 min read)

Joe Biden Administration Approval Ratings (19-20 September)
23 September 2021 (4 min read)

Scottish Independence Referendum Voting Intention (18 September)
21 September 2021 (4 min read)

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom? (27 Sept): (see full tweet)
  2. Do Britons agree or disagree that Keir Starmer looks like someone who will one day be Prime Minister? (29 Sept): (see full tweet)
  3. Where is the UK with respect to the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic at this moment? (20 Sept): (see full tweet)
  4. Keir Starmer Approval Rating (27 Sept): (see full tweet)
  5. Government Competency Rating (27 Sept): (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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