The Conservative Party’s approval rating for overall performance since the 2019 General Election stands at just +1%, within the margin of error, and the Labour Party’s approval rating stands at -3%, with roughly a third of the populace approving and disapproving of both parties. But these parties both have strengths in particular areas: the Tories pull ahead on the economy, immigration, foreign affairs, the environment, and tackling crime, while the Labour Party takes the lead as the most trusted party to tackle poverty and support the NHS. Leadership approval ratings and voting intention can often be superficial, swayed by something as simple as a flippant comment or perceived lack of charisma, while favourability on particular issues is often a more measured assessment of a party’s policies, reputation, and results.
But the public are less ambivalent when it comes to the leaders of the Government and the Opposition parties. Keir Starmer currently leads with an approval rating of +14% compared with Boris Johnson’s +5% approval rating, which has been fluctuating in recent week, but 34% of the public neither approve nor disapprove of Starmer’s performance owing to the fact he is new to his role. In a straight contest between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, Johnson leads by 12%. Boris Johnson’s approval rating may be lower that Keir Starmer’s but the public still want him in Number 10 more they want the Leader of the Labour Party.
The public’s more decisive view of Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer compared to the mixed views on the performances of their parties suggests that differences in public opinion on the Conservative Party and Labour Party rest on their leaders. But the reality is that leadership approval ratings alone are not sufficient in showing the whole picture of how a party is viewed, and party favourability varies by issue.
A plurality of 41% think that the Conservative Party can be trusted the most with the economy, while 27% favour the Labour Party with the economy.
There is a significant difference between age groups; the Labour party is the most trusted party with the economy until the 35-44 age group, where favourability switches to the Conservative Party. A strong plurality (46%) of 18-24 year olds trust the Labour Party the most with the economy whereas 55% in the 65+ age group trust the Conservative Party the most with the economy.
The Conservative Party are the most trusted party to tackle crime, with 38% of people trusting the Tories the most and 27% trusting Labour the most. Police recruitment was one of Boris Johnson’s top 2019 General election promises and a recent report shows that despite the pandemic, the officer recruitment drive is on track to meet the target of 20,000 officers by March 2023, and there has been the largest annual increase in office numbers since 2003/04.
A plurality of Londoners (37%) trust the Labour Party the most to tackle crime while 30% trust the Conservative Party the most. With growing concerns about knife crime in the capital and a London Mayoral Election looming, the Conservative Party may wish to focus on the crime issue in the capital.
The Conservative Party wins a victory over Labour when it comes to immigration; 36% trust the Conservative Party the most to handle immigration compared to 23% who trust the Labour Party the most. Boris Johnson delivered on his promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and have pledged to introduce a new Australian-style points-based immigration system, which may be driving Tory support when it comes to immigration.
Once again, the Labour Party is ahead in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups, but its lead over the Conservative Party is smaller than on other issues; just over a third of 18-24 years olds (37%) trust the Labour Party the most to handle immigration and a fifth (19%) trust the Tories the most. The Conservatives take the lead in the 35-44 age group and above, achieving majority (51%) support with those over 65.
When it comes to protecting the environment, 26% trust the Conservative Party the most, 22% favour Labour, and a fifth (20%) favour the Green Party.
The Labour Party is the most trusted party to protect the environment in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups, but the Conservative Party does manage to achieve similar results to the Green Party. Within the 18-24 age group, a third (34%) trust the Labour Party the most to protect the environment while 15% favour the Conservative Party and the Green Party respectively. The Conservatives pull ahead of the Labour Party and the Green Party with those over 55. Overall, the Conservative Party is doing as well as the Green Party at convincing younger voters that they were can be trusted the most to protect the environment –quite the achievement when the Green Party operates on an environmental position –and takes the lead with older voters.
The jury is out when it comes to education, with approximately a third of the public trusting the Conservative Party and Labour Party the most when to support the education system (33% and 31% respectively).
The Conservative Party and Labour Party are tied in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups before support turns sharply in favour of the Conservative Party. Two fifths (41%) of 55-64 year olds trust the Tories the most to support the education system while a quarter (26%) trust the Labour Party the most. However, overall, no party can claim a victory here. The British public have recently been split on education policy, including the reopening of schools in September following lockdown, which may factor into why no political party is leading.
A plurality of 37% trust the Tories the most with foreign affairs while a quarter (25%) favour Labour.
In the wake of coronavirus, the UK Government have introduced tougher policies against China, which have proved popular. Support for the Government’s recent decision to offer Hong Kong residents the right to settle in the UK has been consistently high and nearly half of the British public approve of the Government’s U-turn on Huawei. As the public becomes wearier of China, the Conservative Government’s increasingly hard-line approach to UK-China relations could be boosting public support for the Tories when it comes to foreign affairs.
The Labour Party is the favourite until the 35-44 age group once again, with approximately a third of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds (36% and 33% respectively) trusting the Labour Party the most with foreign affairs. It’s worth noting that Labour’s lead over the Tories in the younger age groups is smaller than on some of the other issues.
The Labour Party pulls ahead as the most trusted party to support the NHS (37%) while 31% trust the Conservative Party the most, despite Boris Johnson’s 2019 election promise to hire more nurses and increase funding to the NHS.
There are some differences between the sexes; a plurality of men (36%) favour the Conservative Party with the NHS with 34% preferring the Labour Party, but a plurality of women (40%) trust the Labour Party the most and 27% favour the Tories.
The Labour Party are ahead of the Conservatives in every age group except for those over 65, where nearly half (49%) trust the Conservative Party the most to support the NHS and a quarter (25%) favour the Labour Party.
The Labour Party takes the lead as the party most trusted to tackle poverty (37%) while 27% favour the Conservative Party.
The majority (53%) of 18-24 year olds trust the Labour Party the most to tackle poverty while 37% of those over 65 trust the Conservative Party the most. The shift from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party occurs at a later age when it comes to tackling poverty than many of the other issues.
The majority (59%) of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election trust the Conservative Party the most to tackle poverty while 17% favour the Labour Party and just under a fifth (19%) don’t know. While the Conservative Party does succeed in convincing the majority of their 2019 General Election voters that they can be trusted to tackle poverty, 41% of their recent voters trust other parties more or unsure. A decade of austerity measures has reduced the deficit but also decreased trust that the Conservative Party can be trusted to tackle poverty.
Overall, there are significant differences between age groups. Party support on a particular issue typically switches from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party from the 35-44 age group onwards, but, when it comes to tackling poverty and supporting the NHS, the Tories only receive plurality support from those over 65. The 35-44 age group is clearly a pivotal point when it comes to party favourability on these issues and voting intention, as the plurality would vote Conservative from the 35-44 age group onwards.
While there is little difference between the overall approval ratings of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party since the 2019 General Election, public perception of the main political parties varies significantly by issue and age group, and thus, leadership or approval ratings alone are not enough to understand how a party is viewed by the British electorate.
The coronavirus crisis has pushed concerns about the economy and the NHS to the forefront, and the public side with different parties on these issues. If Keir Starmer utilises the public’s trust in Labour to tackle poverty and support the NHS effectively, Boris Johnson’s lead over Keir Starmer, and the Conservative’s lead over Labour, could decrease. On the other hand, if Boris Johnson succeeds in delivering on his election promises of more nurses and funding for the NHS while maintaining current support for his economic policies, the Conservative Party’s approval rating could increase.