Public Thinks Government Has Mishandled Coronavirus Pandemic, But Nobody Else Would Have Done Better

June 21, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Boris Johnson | Coronavirus | Coronavirus Restrictions | GB Public Figures | Health | UK Government

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As shops and schools began to reopen this past week, signalling the start of an emergence from lockdown, the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis continued to be called into question.

In a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands at a net -7% approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, compared to a net -2% in last week’s poll, with 44% of all respondents either disapproving or strongly disapproving of his strategy. Approval of the Prime Minister’s performance during the pandemic is, perhaps unsurprisingly, divided along political party lines.

The disapproval extends beyond Boris Johnson, with 55% of respondents believing the UK Government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well. Again, this was split along political lines, with 53% of 2019 Conservative voters believing the Government has performed well and 66% of 2019 Labour voters and 75% of 2019 Liberal Democrat voters believing the Government has not performed well.

However, this partisan divide is not mirrored in attitudes towards the lockdown, which may be a source of the overall discontent with the Government’s handling of the crisis. The large majority (78%) of respondents believe, knowing what they know now, that the UK Government made the right decision to implement a lockdown across the UK. This was the case across age groups, regions, and political parties.

In a similar vein, 74% believe that the UK Government implemented the lockdown too late, with the majority supporting this view across all age groups and regions. Unlike overall approval of the Government and Prime Minister’s performance, this question largely did not see partisan divergences with 71% of 2019 Conservative voters, 81% of 2019 Labour voters, and 90% of 2019 Liberal Democrats believing lockdown was implemented too late.

This widespread agreement, across respondents from all political viewpoints, suggests that continued Conservative voter support for the Prime Minister and Government’s performance is not based on their approach to the lockdown specifically, but perhaps due to other measures implemented that did not rely on the lockdown, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or funding for UK efforts to find a vaccine. However, given that the lockdown has played such a significant role in the Government’s strategy to combat the virus, the discrepancy between support for the Government and lack of support for their lockdown strategy suggests 2019 Conservative voters could just be demonstrating party loyalty.

With such little support for either the performances by Boris Johnson or the UK Government during this pandemic, the question remains as to how past Prime Ministers might have fared in the face of such an unprecedented challenge. Perhaps it would be unfair to judge the current Government and Prime Minister on their reaction to a situation that no other Government has faced in recent times.  When considering recent past Prime Ministers, 34% of respondents believed that Margaret Thatcher would have led the country better than Boris Johnson has, the highest percentage achieved when compared to all other Prime Ministers since her Government.

When provided with a list of active or recently active politicians other than the Prime Minister, nearly a quarter of respondents (23%) believed that none of them would have led the country better through the crisis than Boris Johnson. Interestingly, Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak received the same overall result as Sir Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Labour Party, with only 19% believing each of them would have led the country through the pandemic better than the current Prime Minister.

There was naturally a sharp divide across political lines, with only 4% of 2019 Labour voters thinking that none of the provided names would have led the country better than Boris Johnson compared to 43% of 2019 Conservative voters. However, only 37% of 2019 Labour voters believed Sir Keir Starmer would have led the country through the crisis better than the Prime Minister, which is lower than one might expect considering the high levels of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s performance.  When asked in the previous week’s voting intention poll if respondents thought Boris Johnson or Sir Keir Starmer would be best as Prime Minister through the pandemic, 42% supported Boris Johnson compared with 30% for Sir Keir Starmer.

In a similar straight contest between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak in a different poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies this week, 37% of respondents believed that Boris Johnson would be a better Prime Minister at this time whilst 30% selected Rishi Sunak. Despite general dissatisfaction with how Prime Minister Boris Johnson has handled the coronavirus, generally, respondents do not want to see him replaced with the Chancellor.

It seems that, again, whilst the public are not supportive of the Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis or lockdown, they are not convinced that Keir Starmer, or anyone else, would have performed better.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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