Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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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 environmental transport policies in the EU and discuss why giving people more choice when it comes to their transport options is key to reducing CO2 emissions from road transport.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Britons’ feelings on the future of the UK
  • Public disillusionment with international climate summits
  • Views on lorry driver and fuel shortages

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(4 Oct):

Conservative 40% (-1)
Labour 37% (+2)
Liberal Democrat 10% (–)
Green 4% (-1)
Scottish National Party 4% (–)
Reform UK 3% (–)
Other 1% (-1)

Changes +/- 27 Sept

All Net Approval Ratings
(4 Oct):

Rishi Sunak: +17% (+1)
Boris Johnson: -6% (–)
Keir Starmer: -11% (+2)

Changes +/- 27 Sept

Our latest Voting Intention poll gives the Conservatives a three-point lead over Labour, with 40% (-1) of voters saying they would vote for the Conservative Party if an election were to be held tomorrow.

This week’s results are noteworthy because before weighting respondents’ answers by their likelihood to vote or excluding undecided respondents, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are on equal footing, with 30% of respondents saying they would vote Conservative and an equal 30% saying they would vote Labour, were there a General Election tomorrow.

With both the Labour Party’s and the Conservative Party’s annual conference just over, public and media attention has centred in on each party’s key figures—most of all their respective leaders. This week’s poll finds that both Boris Johnson’s and Keir Starmer’s net approval ratings remain in negative territory, standing at -6% and -11% respectively.

A proxy for Voting Intention can be questions regarding who respondents would prefer to have as Prime Minister. To be sure, incumbents often enjoy an inherent advantage with such questions. Given that they are in power already, people may find it easier to imagine them in such a position—at least compared to hypothetical candidates who have not been in power themselves. But such questions are still relevant, because while voters may often vote for an MP or political party that aligns with their views on policy, they are nevertheless also indirectly voting for a government led by a particular Prime Minister.

Between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, 42% think Boris Johnson is the better Prime Minister for the UK at this moment, compared to 32% who think Keir Starmer would be. In fact, Boris Johnson has always polled above Keir Starmer for better Prime Minister since we began asking Britons this question over a year ago in June 2020.

Even so, over the autumn and winter of 2020, public opinion on whether Johnson or Starmer would be the better Prime Minister at the time was more narrowly split. On 28 October 2020, for instance, Johnson only had a four-point lead over Starmer for best Prime Minister (40% to 36%), compared to today’s ten-point lead. Criticism regarding Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic—which was then at its height, with the Prime Minister soon thereafter imposing a second national lockdown—likely played a role in these results. Indeed, in late October 2020, a plurality of 46% thought the Government was not taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic.

In a reversal of this dynamic, Johnson’s lead over Starmer widened to an impressive 26-point difference over the late spring and early summer of 2021. On 17 May 2021, 50% of Britons thought Boris Jonson was the better Prime Minister for the UK at that moment, compared to 24% who thought Keir Starmer. With the coronavirus vaccination rollout in full swing, a majority of 57% then thought the Government was taking the right measures to address the pandemic.

Now, however, the coronavirus pandemic is becoming a less salient issue than it was a year ago, and evaluations of how each party’s leader responds to other issues—such as the economic aftermath of the pandemic, current worker shortages, and supply chain problems—are gaining in importance. As a new political faultline around the issues of wage and immigration policies is emerging (more on that below), views on economic competency may come to determine Britons’ voting intention and corresponding assessment of who would be better suited to being Prime Minister.

Chart of the Week

How do Britons feel about the future of the United Kingdom? In a series of questions asked to assess respondents’ emotional disposition on the matter, we find that Britons’ political preferences play a clear role in determining optimism and pessimism.

While 50% of 2019 Conservative voters are optimistic regarding the general direction in which the United Kingdom is heading, only 20% of 2019 Labour voters are. Conversely, 23% of 2019 Conservative voters but 55% of 2019 Labour voters are pessimistic about the country’s general direction.

This pattern is also visible when we ask respondents to what extent, on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 5 (a great deal), they feel a range of emotions when thinking about the future of the United Kingdom. 2019 Conservative voters feel positive emotions more strongly than 2019 Labour voters.

When asked how confident they feel when thinking about the future of the UK, 2019 Conservative voters give an average rating of 2.7, suggesting reasonable confidence. 2019 Labour voters, by contrast, given an average rating of 2.0. Whereas 38% of 2019 Conservative voters rate their confidence at a 4 or 5, only 13% of 2019 Labour voters do. Enthusiasm regarding their country’s future is also significantly lower among 2019 Labour voters, with another average rating of 2.0. Among 2019 Conservative voters, by contrast, the average rating for this emotion is 2.6.

Differences between the two demographics are also striking regarding how hopeful they feel about the future of the UK: 45% of 2019 Conservative voters rate their hopefulness at a 4 or 5, compared to a much lower 18% of 2019 Labour voters. The respective average ratings in this case are 2.9 for Conservative voters and 2.2 for Labour voters.

When it comes to feelings of anger, fear, and resentment regarding the future of the United Kingdom, we observe an inverse distribution of ratings, suggesting that 2019 Labour voters feel these negative emotions more strongly than 2019 Conservative voters. The average rating for anger, for instance, stands at 1.8 for 2019 Conservative voters but rises to 2.6 among 2019 Labour voters. Whereas only 9% of Conservative voters rate their anger at a 4 or 5, 36% of Labour voters do. Similarly, when asked how afraid and resentful they feel regarding the future of the UK, Labour voters give an average rating of 2.5 in both cases, while the average ratings among Conservative voters for these emotions are notably lower, standing at 1.8 and 1.6 respectively.

Whether or not their preferred political party is in power thus appears to have a significant effect on how positive or negative Britons’ feelings regarding the future of their country are. For the Labour Party in particular, channelling the anger, frustration, and resentment of its voters into a more positive vision of the future is becoming a key challenge.

*Pavlos Vasilopoulos, Lecturer on Political Behaviour from the University of York, was a contributor to this research into emotions and politics.

Our Global Data

Great Britain: Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claims that next month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow should be a “turning point for humanity,” less than half (45%) of Britons have heard of the conference, and only a fifth (21%) have high expectations for the summit and its outcomes. Read more about the public’s disillusionment with climate summits here.

Great Britain: While a plurality of 44% of Britons would support restaurants and pubs using vaccine passports to verify whether customers are vaccinated (compared to 24% who would oppose this change), 69% of Britons say they currently feel safe eating or drinking at a pub or restaurant outside and 59% say they feel safe doing so inside. Given such a high degree of feelings of safety already exists among patrons, restaurants and pubs would appear to have little business incentive to strictly enforce the introduction of vaccine passports.

United States: Roughly ten months into Joe Biden’s term as President, 23% of 2020 Biden voters and even 11% of 2020 Trump voters say Joe Biden’s Presidency so far has been better than they expected. At the same time, 13% of Biden voters and 62% of Trump voters also say it has been worse than they expected, while 55% and 22% of these respective voters say his Presidency has so far been as they expected.

United States: With 55% of Americans who currently work from home saying remote work has been more productive for them than working from an office and a further 43% saying they find it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance when working from home, many Americans have come to appreciate remote work—so much so that 61% of Americans currently working from home intend to continue to do so, either in full or in part.

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

A Matter of Choice: Why Increasing Citizens’ Transport Options Is More Conducive to Reducing CO2 Emissions than Punitive Measures Against Car Ownership

When 195 nations committed to limiting global warming to well below 2°C in the Paris Climate Agreement, reducing CO2 emissions from cars was clearly going to be a key component in achieving this goal: according to the European Energy Agency, road transport is responsible for more than a fifth of the EU’s total CO2 emissions.

But EU Governments seeking to reduce their emissions are faced with the fundamental challenge that diesel- and petrol-powered cars remain the primary means of transport for many Europeans. In France, Germany, and Italy, for instance, people most often use their own car to get around—whether it is to go food shopping, to go out to a restaurant, to attend a work meeting, or to travel to a nearby town or city.

One might think the coronavirus pandemic has helped in some regards. Recent societal changes such as the rise in working from home may have reduced the number of commuters and thereby emissions to an extent. Yet, more people may also now be using their cars more than before because they have relocated to rural areas or, more importantly, because of health concerns with regards to public transportation. In Italy, for instance, 55% of respondents say they use public transportation less frequently now than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, and 61% say they would feel unsafe using public transportation. The effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on car emissions is thus likely ambiguous. What, then, can Governments do?

Technological innovations such as electric vehicles may be a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For the time being, however, concerns over the price tag of electric cars, a perceived lack of necessary infrastructure such as charging stations, and concerns over battery life are all reasons that make most Europeans say they are unlikely to purchase an electric vehicle in the next three years. In Germany, for instance, nearly half (48%) of respondents who currently own a car say they are unlikely to purchase an electric car in the next three years, compared to a much lower 29% who say they are likely to purchase one. The immediate electrification of all vehicles is thus not a realistic option over the short term.

That is not to say that electric vehicles should not be part of a broader, long-term change in transport practices. They may constitute a compromise between Governments seeking to reduce car emissions and citizens who remain in need of (or attached to) their cars. Pluralities of 45% in France, 42% in Germany, and 33% in Italy say they would oppose Government initiatives intended to discourage car ownership outright. Punitive measures such as additional taxes are thus likely to be met with hostility—as the case of the 2018 gilets jaunes protests in France that erupted over the Government wanting to raise fuel taxes vividly illustrates. Encouraging the switch from petrol- and diesel-powered to electric cars could be an alternative solution.

Yet, the most promising strategy for Governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars is to focus on public transportation and active mobility to make citizens less reliant on cars in the first place. Roughly 40% of car owners across all three countries polled already say that, without their cars, they could live as they currently do without difficulty. If Governments were to give their citizens better access to alternative forms of transportation—rather than pursue policies that punish car ownership and use—this number would likely increase further without inviting public hostility.

The opportunity is there for Governments to take. 42% of respondents in France, 49% in Germany, and 67% in Italy say that cities and towns in their region are currently doing too little to develop public transportation systems, and similar proportions of 49%, 48%, and 62% across the three countries further say too little is being done to make roads accessible and safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Demand for active mobility and public transportation infrastructure is thus clearly there; it is up to Governments to act on it.

In doing so, Governments would be wise to frame their emission reduction policies in a positive way. Rather than actively deterring car use in a way that appears to chastise car owners for owning something they may need to live their lives, Governments should put emphasis on giving people more choice when it comes to their transport options—presenting policies in such a positive light is much more likely to gain citizens’ support. Ultimately, Governments should invest in making other modes of transportation more attractive. In doing so, they will be investing in a greener and cleaner future

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

“Boris Johnson under pressure to set out UK’s route to net zero emissions”
Financial Times | 29 September 2021

Our take: Despite the legal target to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050 having been enshrined in legislation in 2019, the Government is yet to set out a detailed plan for how the UK will achieve this target. Indeed, we find that detailing concrete steps the Government will take to work towards ‘net zero’ may be necessary to increase public confidence in its achievability. Currently, more than half (55%) of Britons who say they understand the meaning of this target do not have confidence in the ability of the UK to reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, compared to 31% who do. More generally, a plurality of 36% disapproves of the current Government’s policy performance on the environment, compared to 27% of Britons who approve. Failing to outline a specific plan for how the Government will pursue its ‘net zero’ target risks heightening this disapproval further.

“The Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, Says She Wants to Fix the Company, Not Harm It”
The Wall Street Journal | 3 October 2021

Our take: Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, who shared a series of Facebook’s internal documents with the Wall Street Journal, testified before the US Congress on Tuesday and also spoke out in an interview with US news programme 60 Minutes. Her key claim is that Facebook continually prioritises profit over the wellbeing of its users and the public and is thereby “tearing our societies apart.” Damning as such statements may be, they are likely to resonate with significant proportions of the American public. Indeed, our polling finds that 43% of Americans—a plurality—think social media has made the world a worse place. In comparison, only 22% think it has made the world a better place, and an equal 22% think it has made the world neither a better nor a worse place. Together with such public attitudes, the latest accusations levelled at Facebook are likely to reignite debates over whether and how social media companies should best be regulated, or whether they should even be broken up.

Issue of the Week

The UK’s HGV Driver Shortage and Resulting Fuel Shortages

• The news story that most caught Britons’ attention this past week was the fuel shortage the UK is currently experiencing. This shortage is notably due to a lack of lorry drivers and resulting disruptions in the transport of fuel from holding tanks to petrol stations.

• The Government is arguing that such incidents represent ‘growing pains’ in the transition to a new economy in which tighter post-Brexit immigration rules mean higher wages for UK workers.

• Such arguments may resonate with Conservative voters, among whom 30% (a plurality) so far think low wages and difficult working conditions for lorry drivers are the main cause of the current shortage of HGV drivers. Among 2019 Labour voters, by contrast, 51% think the UK’s departure from the EU—with the drop in immigration it has led to—is the main cause.

• The Conservatives are therefore trying to position themselves as advocates for higher wages, notably for blue-collar workers, while simultaneously portraying Labour as the party of mass immigration and short-term fixes. With his comments that he would issue 100,000 visas to foreign workers to deal with the current lorry driver shortage, Keir Starmer has played into the Conservatives’ hand.

• Even so, the Government’s handling of the current shortage of both lorry drivers and fuel is still a source of considerable discontent: we find 57% of respondents disapprove of the Government’s response to the fuel shortage. That 60% and 48% see the lorry driver shortage and the ensuing fuel shortage, respectively, as foreseeable suggests that the public may also be expecting the Government to be a better manager of such ‘growing pains.’

R&WS in the Media

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

Boris Johnson must be careful his COP26 promises do not add to the public’s climate change disillusionment
iNews | 1 October 2021

Andy Burnham denies giving Keir Starmer a one-year ultimatum as Labour slip in poll
Mirror | 3 October 2021

Draft Ruben Gallego Effort Launches As Progressives Seek to Oust Kyrsten Sinema
Newsweek | 30 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

Conservative Voters More Likely to Cite Low Wages and Difficult Working Conditions, not Brexit, as Cause of Lorry Driver Shortage
6 October 2021 (5 min read)

Boris Johnson Must Be Careful his COP26 Promises Do Not Add to the Public’s Climate Change Disillusionment
6 October 2021 (4 min read)

Overwhelming Majorities Across Ten US States Concerned About Their Online Privacy
30 September 2021 (6 min read)

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. What do Britons think is the main cause of the current shortage of lorry drivers? (see full tweet)
  2. What political or Government-related news stories most caught Britons’ attention in the past week? (see full tweet)
  3. Among Britons who say they are at least somewhat aware of what “levelling up” means, which policy objective do they most associate with “levelling up”? (see full tweet)
  4. Do Britons think the present threat of the coronavirus pandemic as portrayed by the following is generally overstated, understated, or about right? (see full tweet)
  5. Johnson vs. Starmer (4 Oct): (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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