In the wake of the lifting of all domestic coronavirus restrictions on 19 July, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating has dropped to its lowest point since March 2020, with 47% disapproving and 32% approving of his overall job performance. At Redfield & Wilton Strategies, our latest research investigates the basis of this disapproval, surveying the British public for their views on whether or not Boris Johnson embodies certain character traits that may be deemed valuable in leadership. In every case, we find overall pluralities or majorities disagreeing that Boris Johnson embodies these traits, though a clear and consistent political divide is visible, with 2019 Conservative voters tending to agree and 2019 Labour voters tending to strongly disagree.
Firstly, around half of Britons disagree that Boris Johnson embodies the character traits of ‘trustworthy’ (50%), ‘cares about people like me’ (49%), ‘strong leader’ (45%), and ‘good communicator’ (45%).
In each case, Britons are noticeably divided along party lines. Overall, 50% of respondents disagree that Boris Johnson embodies the trait ‘trustworthy,’ with 24% agreeing that he does and 23% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Yet, a plurality (39%) of 2019 Conservative voters agree that the Prime Minister embodies the characteristic of being ‘trustworthy,’ compared to 26% who disagree. Among 2019 Labour voters, a clear majority of 69% disagree, with a substantial proportion (46%) strongly disagreeing—compared to just 16% who agree.
Similarly, with respect to the phrase ‘cares about people like me,’ two-thirds (67%) of 2019 Labour voters disagree—with a plurality (47%) in strong disagreement—that Boris Johnson embodies this trait, as do 27% of 2019 Conservative voters. Meanwhile, a plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (42%) instead agree that Johnson cares about people like them. When compared to Keir Starmer on this metric, our latest research finds that a slightly greater proportion of respondents believe Starmer (33%) rather than Johnson (28%) embodies this characteristic, though a plurality (39%) is unsure.
With regard to whether Boris Johnson can be considered a ‘strong leader,’ we observe a smaller divide: 45% of respondents disagree that Johnson embodies the trait of being a ‘strong leader,’ while 35% agree that he embodies this trait. Where a majority (62%) of 2019 Conservative voters agree that Boris Johnson embodies strong leadership, an equal majority (62%) of their Labour counterparts disagree, with 36% disagreeing strongly. Despite these overall levels of disagreement that Johnson is a strong leader, he currently nevertheless leads over Keir Starmer 37% to 28% in this regard.
Furthermore, when asked if Boris Johnson embodies the trait ‘good communicator,’ 45% of respondents disagree, compared to 35% who agree. A majority of 2019 Conservative voters (55%) agree and a majority of 2019 Labour voters (61%) disagree, with the most popular response among the latter once again being strong disagreement (36%).
In four other areas particularly pertinent to the management of the coronavirus pandemic—keeping promises, organisation, honesty, and consistency in decision-making—disagreement that Boris Johnson embodies these traits becomes majoritarian.
51% disagree that Boris Johnson embodies the phrase ‘keeps his promises’—including 28% of 2019 Conservative voters and an overwhelming 70% of 2019 Labour voters, with 46% of the latter disagreeing strongly. Altogether, 24% agree and 23% neither agree nor disagree that Johnson embodies the trait of ‘keeps his promises.’
With regard to organisation, we observe the same slight majority (51%) disagreeing that Boris Johnson embodies the trait ‘organised,’ with 24% agreeing. Similarly, 53% disagree and 23% agree that Boris Johnson embodies the term ‘honest.’ In both cases, a plurality of 2019 Conservative voters agree and a large majority of 2019 Labour voters disagree that Johnson embodies these characteristics.
Finally, the personality trait which sees a comparatively smaller—though still significant—difference in opinion between 2019 Conservative and Labour voters is consistency in decision-making. Overall, 56% disagree that Boris Johnson embodies this trait, compared to 24% who agree and 18% who neither agree nor disagree. Disagreement is once again high among 2019 Labour voters, amongst whom 68% disagree, whereas 2019 Conservative voters are split, with 36% agreeing and 36% disagreeing that Johnson embodies consistency in decision-making. These findings suggest that it may be the changeability of Boris Johnson’s decision-making which attracts the most bipartisan criticism of his leadership.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, opinions on Boris Johnson’s leadership qualities are a decidedly partisan matter, with Conservative voters tending to agree that he embodies key personality traits, and Labour voters tending to disagree. Significantly, opinion is stronger among Labour voters, with respondents consistently strongly disagreeing, whereas Conservative voters are more likely to agree than strongly agree. The closest Britons come to any unity of opinion is regarding Boris Johnson’s perceived failure to embody consistency in decision-making, which is likely related to the Government’s recent pandemic management. Whether or not this criticism of his character will have any significant consequences for Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister remains to be seen.