Written By Eoin Sheehan

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! This week, with the US Presidential Election now just one year away, we assess President Biden’s chances of re-election against a backdrop of poor approval ratings and concerns about his age.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • Have British voters’ lives returned to ‘normal’ following Covid? 

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 (29 October):

Labour 45% (+1)
Conservative 25% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 13% (–)
Reform UK 7% (-1)
Green 6% (+2)
Scottish National Party 3% (+1)
Other 2% (+1)

Changes +/- 22 October

Combined Net Approval Ratings (29 October):

Keir Starmer: +10% (-1)
Rishi Sunak: -14% (–)

Changes +/- 22 October

These should be encouraging times for Keir Starmer.

With the next General Election slated to be sometime next year, Labour appears to be cruising to victory.

The party currently enjoys a 20% cushion over the Conservatives nationally and is neck-and-neck with the SNP in Scotland. Starmer himself holds a positive net approval rating of +10% across Great Britain, while also currently holding his highest approval ratings in the Red Wall (+12%) since mid-February and in Scotland (+11%) for more than a year.

The Government appears aimless, with the September policy re-set and subsequent party conference both failing to provide any appreciable poll boost. One year into his tenure as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s approval rating is stuck at -14%, just about where it stood when his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer ended.

Nevertheless, Starmer has found himself struggling to maintain party unity over his chosen approach to the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas.

His initial comments on the conflict to LBC—during which he suggested Israel had the right to cut off water and electricity supplies to Gaza—and his subsequent refusal to back calls for a ceasefire, have put Starmer at odds with many in his own party.

Growing numbers of Labour elected officials (including more than a dozen frontbenchers and the Mayors of London and Manchester) have called for the leadership to support an immediate ceasefire. An attempt by Starmer to clarify his position in a major speech this week, during which he again voiced his reasons for opposing a ceasefire, was judged to be “far from convincing” by the normally supportive Guardian.

In electoral terms, the internal divisions within Labour over Middle East policy will likely have little direct impact. As the polls show, and as we have consistently argued, the next election will be decided by domestic issues: the cost of living, the state of the health service, immigration, housing, and education, among others.

However, having worked so hard over the past three years to present an image of unity to the public (a campaign that has been largely successful), the present conflict risks re-igniting factional struggles within Labour. The open defiance of his position by many within his party further jeopardises Starmer’s hard-won reputation with the public as a strong leader

Steering Labour through the present crisis without precipitating any more open splits with his leadership will be one of the biggest tests of Starmer’s party management skills to date.

Chart of the Week

In June, the long-delayed public inquiry into the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic held its first public hearing. Over the past week, the high-profile testimony of the likes of Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain, and Helen McNamara has trawled through the decision-making processes that led the Government to first introduce lockdown measures in March 2020, a decision that would have life-altering consequences for every person in Britain.

Today, some three and a half years on from that first lockdown, 76% of Britons say their lives have ‘mostly’ (39%) or ‘entirely’ (37%) returned to what was normal before the pandemic. The number who say their lives have returned ‘entirely’ to normal has risen steadily since May last year, at which point only 19% said their lives had ‘entirely’ gone back to normal.

But for others, especially those who lost relatives or suffered life-altering health problems, no such return to normality has been possible. As many as 7% of British voters say their lives have ‘not at all’ returned to what they were like before the pandemic.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Biden Re-election Bid Sputtering

This Sunday will mark exactly one year until the next US Presidential Election.

While much can (and will) change between now and 5 November 2024 one thing is abundantly clear at this stage: Joe Biden’s re-election bid is in trouble

Voting intention polling for the Presidential Election highlights the challenge the President currently faces. In our latest nationwide poll, Biden currently trails Donald Trump in a hypothetical match-up by two points (40% vs 38%)

Swing state polls make further grim reading. When the independent candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is factored in, our recent polls in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania show the President trailing Trump in five of these states and only managing a tie in Pennsylvania.

Why is President Biden struggling?

The greater loyalty and devotion of Trump voters to their candidate when compared with Biden voters is certainly part of the answer.

While 84% of 2020 Trump voters currently say they would vote for Trump again in 2024, just under three-quarters (74%) of Biden 2020 voters say they would now vote for his re-election.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s entry into the race is also a factor. Our latest national poll shows Kennedy peeling away more than twice as many Biden 2020 as Trump 2020 voters (12% vs 5%).

But the President’s difficulties run deeper than an enthusiasm gap between his supporters and those of Donald J. Trump or the appearance of a potentially disruptive third-party candidate.

Firstly, his own approval ratings remain poor. The President’s approval rating is currently an anaemic -8%, with 45% of voters saying they disapprove of his job performance against only 37% who approve. Biden last recorded a positive net approval rating in the autumn of 2021.

Secondly, and contributing to his own poor ratings, the American public judges the administration’s performance negatively on most of the major policy issues. 

On the economy, despite touting recent GDP and unemployment numbers as a victory for ‘Bidenomics,’ too many Americans are not feeling the benefit. In our swing state polling, majorities in every state say their financial situation has worsened in the past year, while voters in all six also give the Administration a negative approval rating for its performance on the economy. Nationwide, the Administration’s approval on the economy stands at -15%.

Among other issues, immigration continues to be an open, festering wound, with the Administration’s approval rating on the issue currently sitting at a dismal -26%. 

While immigration, it is true, remains a far greater issue of importance to Republican than Democratic voters, concerns about immigration have not been limited to just conservative or border states. In true blue New York City, a plurality of 42% disapprove of President Biden’s management of migration along the southern border.

The outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas poses an additional foreign policy challenge to the Administration, as well as threatening to widen divisions within the Democratic coalition. 

But in addition to these challenges, which the Administration can possibly try to tackle with shifts in policy and communication, the President faces one significantly intractable problem: his age.

Simply put, the President’s age (he will turn 81 later this month) is the single biggest barrier to his re-election at this point.

In August, 62% of Americans said they agreed that President Biden is too old to seek a second term as President of the United States, including a plurality (44%) of Biden 2020 voters. In the same poll, 61% said they were ‘very’ (44%) or ‘fairly’ (17%) concerned about the President’s ability to discharge his duties in office given his age.

When announcing his primary challenge for the Democratic nomination, Congressman Dean Phillips made clear that he does not disagree on policy or political grounds with President Biden (though perhaps he should, given the aforementioned polling figures). His candidacy is motivated instead by a conviction that “it’s time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of leaders.” Or, put another way, “Biden’s too old.”

An election campaign is exhausting for any candidate, let alone one who is past 80. Stumbles or gaffes on the campaign trail, such as the President himself has suffered in the past or as Bob Dole did in 1996, would be ruinous to the Biden campaign’s attempt to present the President as physically up to the job.

Meanwhile, Hunter Biden’s legal issues provide further unwelcome distractions, with his trial on federal gun charges potentially running into next summer. Our national and swing state polling finds that relatively few Americans oppose the investigations and legal proceedings into the President’s son, suggesting that the President could struggle to defend himself to voters if the investigations end up implicating him too.

Amid all these challenges, it is worth recalling the narrowness of Biden’s victory in 2020. Had just 45,000 voters in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia voted for Trump instead of Biden, the electoral college would have been a tie.

The President’s team has told donors and supporters to relax, claiming that abortion and fear of a Donald Trump return will power Biden to victory. But with the public sceptical of the fruits of ‘Bidenomics’ and with Biden’s age an on-going concern, maybe they should not feel so assured.

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.

R&WS in the Media

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

Labour extends poll lead over Tories to 20 points
The Daily Mail | 30 October 2023

Evening Report — Phillips makes Biden challenge official
The Hill | 27 October 2023

YEAR IN CHARGE Rishi Sunak’s first year as Prime Minister in pictures and the five biggest challenges ahead
The Sun | 25 October 2023

The powers people think that Westminster should give to Wales
Wales Online | 21 October 2023

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Numbers of the Week

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