Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a further tightening of restrictions during a televised address on 22 September in an attempt to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the UK. At this stage, more than 6,000 coronavirus cases that are emerging on a daily basis. Pessimism regarding the timeline of the pandemic rose by 10 points since our polling last week, with 61% of the public now saying that they believe the worst of the pandemic in the UK is yet to come, 21% believing that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and 19% unsure.
Given growing disapproval of the Prime Minister and the public increasingly considering that the Government is incompetent, public opinion on the new restrictions was overwhelmingly positive. The strong majority (65%) of respondents approve of the 10pm curfew imposed on pubs and restaurants, compared to 15% who disapprove. Such approval may suggest a readiness for even further restrictions.
Support is consistent across all regions of Great Britain (59-68%) and receives bipartisan approval from 73% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 and 61% of those who voted Labour.
The majority (68%) also approve of restricting food and drink outlets to table service only, compared to just 10% who disapprove.
The Government has received some criticism for blaming young people for the rise in coronavirus cases. Our research highlights that respondents under the age of 35 are supportive of increased Government restrictions, with 59-60% approving the 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry, 59-61% approving of table service only, and 51-52% approving of the rule of 6.
The Prime Minister has stated that the recently announced restrictions could be in place for six months. At this stage, 33% think the coronavirus crisis will likely be over by this time next year, whereas 34% say it is unlikely. 9% don’t know. A quarter neither agree nor disagree. Respondents were slightly more optimistic for next year’s prospects than they were last week.
The second wave of coronavirus has had an impact on people’s confidence in their job prospects. Among those who are unemployed but looking for work, 23% believe they are likely to find employment by the end of the year, compared to 50% who think it is unlikely.
Optimism was slightly higher among those who are currently employed but furloughed, although uncertainty remained. 38% of those who are furloughed think it is likely that they will still be employed by their employer at the end of the year compared to 18% who think it is unlikely. 25% are unsure.
After promoting his Back to Work campaign in August and early September, Boris Johnson has had to make a U-turn and advised employees to work from home if they can. As a result, expectations for returning to the workplace have dropped significantly compared to last week. Among those working fully from home, only 16% think they will return to their workplace part-time by the end of the year, down from the 35% recorded last week.
Only 14% of currently full-time remote workers anticipate returning full-time before the year is over, compared to 23% who thought it was likely last week.
Among workers who have returned in person part-time, 52% anticipate returning on a full-time basis before the end of the year, compared to 63% last week.
As the new restrictions come into force, described by many as a second lockdown, an increasing proportion of respondents are sceptical of the Government’s competence; 47% think the current Government is incompetent, with just 24% viewing the current Government as competent.
Significantly, 23% of 2019 Conservative voters believe the current Government is incompetent, along with 68% of 2019 Labour voters. Growing dissatisfaction is likely linked to Boris Johnson’s performance, which dropped to its lowest yet net approval rating of -7% in our latest voting intention polling. Furthermore, almost half (49%) believe that Boris Johnson’s job performance has worsened since the pandemic hit the UK. Only 16% of respondents believe that the Prime Minister’s performance has improved during the crisis.
Overall, the pessimism of the British public in relation to coronavirus is extremely high. Respondents recognise that a hard winter may be ahead, and are strongly supportive of the latest raft of Government restrictions. Falling ratings of the Prime Minister’s performance, as well as the pervading view that the Government is incompetent, are likely caused by the sentiment that the Government has done too little too late. In regard to the economy, a signification proportion of those currently unemployed are sceptical that they will find employment by the end of the year, while a substantial percentage of furloughed workers are concerned about the future of their current role. Workers increasingly believe that they will not return to traditional workplaces this year.