Good Friday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we analyse the Conservative Party’s NHS problem, as Labour mounts heavy criticisms on the Government’s record on health.

This week, our research also covered:

  • The latest Westminster polling
  • Our new tracker poll in Wales
  • President Joe Biden’s feelings about the UK

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 (16 April):

Labour 44% (–)
Conservative 32% (+2)
Liberal Democrat 10% (–)
Reform UK 4% (-2)
Green 4% (-1)
Scottish National Party 4% (+1)
Other 1% (-1)

Changes +/- 9 April

Combined Net Approval Ratings (16 April):

Keir Starmer: +6% (-2)
Rishi Sunak: -7% (+1)
Jeremy Hunt: -10% (-2)

Changes +/- 9 April

Drip, drip, drip. Labour’s poll lead is leaking away. 

Having been 27% clear of the Conservatives as recently as 26 February, Labour’s leads in the seven weeks since have been 26%, 21%, 21%, 19%, 17%, 14%, and (this week) 12%. 

The last three results have all set new records for the narrowest lead Labour has held over the Conservatives since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister. The 44% Labour registered in our two most recent polls is the lowest vote share the party has polled since 25 September (immediately after the mini budget but before the subsequent turmoil in the gilt market).

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer’s lead over Rishi Sunak as the person Britons think would be the better Prime Minister has narrowed to just a single point (37% to 36%), down from as wide as 9% in late February. Starmer’s approval rating is also down two points to +6%.

Rishi Sunak’s approval rating (-7%) is up one point from the previous week, to give him his highest net approval rating nationally since 3 January. 

This week’s Red Wall poll—published on Tuesday—shows evidence of the same trends, with Labour’s lead of 16% the joint-narrowest they have recorded in these seats in 2023. Keir Starmer’s lead over Sunak as better Prime Minister is also just one point (37% to 36%). 

And while the Prime Minister has seen his net approval rating jump five points to -7%—his highest net approval rating in these seats since November—the Labour leader’s net approval rating falls a further point +3%, its lowest level in the Red Wall since September.

However—as regular readers of Magnified will be tired of us repeating—the scale of the narrowing in the polls should be put in context. A double-digit margin for Labour on election night would still likely mean a landslide victory and Keir Starmer becoming the next Prime Minister.

But more than these individual results, it is the unmistakable trend which will give Conservatives heart and Labour supporters heartburn.

Labour Leads by 20% in Wales

Welsh Westminster Voting Intention (15 April – 17 April)

Labour 44% (+3)
Conservatives 24% (-12)
Plaid Cymru 12% (+2)
Liberal Democrat 7% (+1)
Reform UK 9% (+4)
Green 4% (+3)
Other 0% (-1)

Changes +/- 2019 General Election

One of the more remarkable, but least remarked upon, results of the 2019 General Election occurred in Wales. 

In a place where Labour had beaten the Conservatives by double digits in four of the five previous General Elections—and by 9% in the other—Labour in 2019 beat the Conservatives by just 5%. For their part, the Conservatives gained six seats from Labour and one from the Liberal Democrats, winning 14 seats for their best result in Wales since 1983.

Now, however, it appears that the Conservative tide in Wales has ebbed. 

Yesterday, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies published the first in a regular series of tracker polls covering all aspects of Welsh politics. 

Altogether, Labour leads the Conservatives by 20% (44% to 24%), with the Conservatives vote share down twelve points on what it was at the last General Election.

A majority of Welsh voters view the UK Government as incompetent (61%), while giving it negative net favourability ratings on every policy issue listed, including on the key issues of the NHS (-53%), the economy (-42%), and immigration (-40%).

First Minister Mark Drakeford has a positive net approval rating of +2%, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s approval rating among Welsh voters is -15%.

One eye-catching finding, however, concerns Welsh voters’ attitudes towards devolution. While 63% of Welsh voters say that there should be a Welsh parliament, only 23% say devolution has so far been a success (with a plurality of 38% instead saying devolution has been neither a success nor a failure).

At the same time, Welsh voters would overwhelmingly vote to keep the Welsh Assembly, having narrowly voted for its creation 25 years ago, and against leaving the United Kingdom, suggesting that Welsh voters do want devolution, just executed more effectively.

Chart of the Week

President Joe Biden has a long history with the United Kingdom.

In 1982, as a then-junior Senator from Delaware, he publicly supported Britain during the Falklands War. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Biden called Britain’s longest reigning Monarch “a stateswoman of unmatched dignity… who deepened the bedrock Alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States.” More recently, the President used his first face-to-face meeting with Rishi Sunak since the latter became British Prime Minister to call the United Kingdom America’s “closest ally and closest friend.”

But Biden—a proud Irish-American Catholic—has regularly made comments which have convinced some that, despite other evidence, he is fundamentally anti-British. 

Last week, during a trip to Ireland, Biden congratulated the Irish rugby team for beating “the Black and Tans,” unfortunately confusing the nickname of the New Zealand rugby team with a notorious British paramilitary police force from the 1920s. Meanwhile his decision to skip the Coronation of King Charles III in May has been criticised in some quarters as a deliberate ‘snub’ to Britain.

For many unionists in Northern Ireland, this pattern reflects a bias which makes the President unsuitable to be an honest broker on Northern Irish issues. Former First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Dame Arlene Foster, reflected this view when she declared last week that the President “hates the United Kingdom.” 

And in the wake of Biden’s visit to Ireland, a plurality of British voters agree with that characterisation. 29% of Britons agree that Biden “hates the United Kingdom,” against 23% who disagree.

Pluralities of 2019 Conservative (37%) and—perhaps more surprisingly—2019 Liberal Democrat (41%) voters agree, while a plurality of Labour voters (30%) disagree.

However, the degree to which British voters are exercised by the President’s perceived animus towards the United Kingdom should not be overstated. Almost half of voters express no view either way, with 47% saying they either don’t know (21%) or neither agree nor disagree (26%). 

And with the President having recently signed a major defence treaty with the UK, and the First Lady shortly to lead a US delegation to the Coronation, the ‘special relationship’ appears likely to remain intact.  

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

On the NHS, the Conservatives Need to Stem the Bleeding

In recent weeks, as the Government’s approval ratings on several key policy areas—most notably the economy—have ticked upwards, the public retains an overwhelmingly negative view of the Government’s handling of one area: Health.

On no other issue does the Government hold worse approval ratings than for its performance on the NHS. More than 50% of British voters have disapproved of the Government’s performance in every poll since 25 September, and although the Government’s approval rating has recovered somewhat in recent weeks, it has done so from an unprecedented low of -49% in late February.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the NHS continues to hand Labour a large stick with which to beat them.

The Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph even gave space on its front page this week to Labour leader Keir Starmer to criticise the Government’s handling of the NHS, in which he cited polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies which found 17% of those who visited A&E in the past year did so because they were unable to see a GP in time.

The Conservative Party’s struggles on the NHS are three-fold. 

Firstly, the Conservatives’ poor ratings on the NHS matter because the NHS matters to voters. Healthcare and the economy are consistently ranked as voters’ two most important election issues, with 58% this week naming healthcare as one of the three issues that would most determine their vote in a General Election. On such an important issue, public dissatisfaction with the Governing party has an electoral cost.

Secondly, there is the practical problem of trying to manage a service under increasing strain. Labour’s current criticisms of the Government on the NHS are effective because they echo the experience of many voters (including Conservative ones) with the health service. 

More than 7 million patients in England are now on waiting lists for elective treatments. Ambulance response times have soared. Meanwhile, hard-pressed health workers have taken industrial action over their pay and conditions. As one columnist bluntly put it, “Anyone who thinks the NHS isn’t in a state of collapse hasn’t been paying attention.”

As the party in Government since 2010, the Conservatives are blamed for this state of affairs, and it is their responsibility to fix it.

Which leads to the third problem: The stubborn political reality that merely spending more, even spending record amounts, on the NHS does not convince the public that the Conservatives are more trustworthy custodians of the health service than Labour would be.

In 2019, Boris Johnson promised a massive increase in health spending while calling the NHS his Government’s “top priority.” Despite the pandemic battering the public finances, his Government pumped an unprecedented amount of money into the health service. And while many Departments suffered funding cuts in Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Budget, spending on the health service remained largely untouched.  

None of this prioritisation has made any difference. Labour has been more trusted than the Conservatives to support the NHS in every poll since May 2021, with the party currently holding an 18-point lead on the issue.

The Conservatives are unlikely to overturn such a large lead between now and the election. What they can do, however, is to at least show some proactivity and energy in tackling the problems that exist in the service now.

At a minimum, the Conservatives must grasp the most immediate issue: the strikes among health workers, which 72% of voters say should be a high priority for the Government. Once such disputes have been settled, the Government must perform the herculean task of clearing the backlog of procedures and reducing ambulance call-out times.

Perhaps as importantly, restoring some order in the health service and allowing those on waiting lists to fully return to the workforce will put the Government on a firmer footing to fight a battle with Labour on the economy, ground on which a Conservative Government—armed with some tentative indicators of economic recovery—should feel more secure.

R&WS in the Media

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

Inflation is top priority for voters, poll reveals in warning to Rishi Sunak
iNews | 20 April 2023

The NHS is broken, declares Keir Starmer
The Telegraph | 18 April 2023

Most Americans Want Ukraine to Join NATO
Newsweek | 14 April 2023

Labour poll lead narrows to record low in ‘blue wall’ Tory seats
City A.M. | 12 April 2023

Spring in the Tory step
Financial Times | 12 April 2023

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