Having ended February trailing Labour by 27% in consecutive polls, Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party needed to see some shoots of recovery in the polls in March. As April arrives, we can conclude that March has been a month of qualified success for both the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, although the overall position in which they find themselves is still extremely difficult.
Overall, March has been a reasonably good month for both the Government and Sunak personally. Diplomatic successes abroad—from the inking of a new deal agreed with France on migration and the signing of the AUKUS defence pact in San Diego—plus the introduction of legislation to tackle illegal immigration have given the Prime Minister and his Government some much needed positive momentum.
In terms of the headline Westminster voting intention poll, the Conservatives have managed to narrow Labour’s leads in all three tracker polls. Nationally, Labour’s lead in our March 26 poll was cut by eight points to 19%, making it the first time in thirteen polls in 2023 that Labour has led by less than 20%. Labour’s lead has narrowed even more dramatically in the Red Wall, falling twelve points in a month to now stand at 16%, the smallest lead the party has held over the Conservatives since mid-September (before the announcement of the mini budget). There has been less change in the traditionally Conservative Blue Wall, where Labour ends March leading by 8%, one point fewer than at the end of February.
Sunak’s approval rating is up by nine points nationally and by seven points in the Blue Wall, although both still end the month in negative territory (-8% and -3% respectively). His national net approval rating at the end of March is the second-highest he has recorded this year, behind only the -4% he registered in our 2-3 January poll. His Red Wall rating, however, moves in the opposite direction, falling four points from February to now sit at -21%, after a Spring Budget that some in those seats criticized as “lacklustre.”
Across the country there is no consensus on the question of which of Sunak or Starmer would be the better Prime Minister, although Sunak has managed to substantially improve his position both nationally and in the Red Wall. While they remain neck-and-neck on 37% each in the traditionally Conservative Blue Wall, Starmer’s lead nationally has been cut by six points to 3%, while Sunak has reversed the seven-point lead Starmer held in the Red Wall at the end of February to now lead by 2%.
While a plurality of 45% of voters in Britain still see the Government Sunak leads as incompetent, the Government’s net competency rating is nine points higher now than it was in late February (-25%). The Government’s net competency rating is also up in both the Red Wall and the Blue Wall, by seven points to -28% in the Red Wall and by nine points to -27% in the Blue Wall, respectively.
On policy delivery, the Government continues to struggle on the three key issues of the economy, the NHS, and immigration, although there is an across the board increase in approval for the Government’s handling of immigration. In Great Britain as a whole, despite double-digit increases in approval on all three in the last month, the Government’s net approval rating for its handling of these issues remains in the negative double digits. Its net approval on the economy sits at -22% (up 13 points from late February), on the NHS at -33% (+16), and on immigration at -24% (+15).
Net approval in the Red Wall for the Government’s performance on the economy is down two points to -29%, although it has improved its rating on immigration by nine points (-31%) while its rating on the NHS is unchanged (-41%). Government approval on all three issues has risen in the Blue Wall, now standing at -30% on the economy (+3), -44% on the NHS (+5), and -28% on immigration (+16).
For Keir Starmer, March has been a more sobering month of polling, although the overall picture is still very encouraging. Labour still holds substantial leads in all three of our voting intention tracker polls, with double digit leads nationally and in the Red Wall complemented by an eight-point lead in the traditionally Conservative Blue Wall.
However, less encouragingly, Starmer suffers a double digit drop in net approval nationally since the end of February, falling ten points to now stand at +3%, his lowest recorded national net approval rating since 25 September 2022. His rating in the Red Wall (+5%, -9) is also down, although he adds two points to his February rating in the Blue Wall to now stand at +8%.
With multiple problems bedevilling the NHS, voters in each of the Blue Wall (33%), the Red Wall (30%), and the country at large (40%) all select the NHS/Healthcare as the issue they most trust Labour to deliver on.
Labour holds large leads over the Conservatives in each of our three polls as the party most trusted on the economy, the NHS, and immigration, although in most cases those leads have narrowed in the last month. Labour’s leads range from 24-points in our GB poll on the NHS (that lead representing a seven-point narrowing from late February) to a relatively slim five-point lead over the Conservatives nationally as the party most trusted to handle immigration (30% to 25%, down from a 14 point lead the party held in our last GB-wide poll of February).
While Rishi Sunak and his party are ending March on something of a high, the scale of their recovery in the last month should not be overstated. Labour remains in an extremely healthy position, with substantial leads in all of our voting intention polls. It also remains the most trusted party in all three tracker polls on the key issues of the economy, the NHS, and immigration. While the country might be unsure which of Sunak or Starmer would be the better Prime Minister, an election tomorrow, on these figures, would still likely result in a Labour majority and Keir Starmer entering Number 10 as Prime Minister.