On 23 March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s first national lockdown in order to combat the coronavirus crisis. Soon after, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked the British public on 8 April 2020 about the Government’s response to the pandemic, and we found 65% of respondents believed the Government had handled the crisis well at that time. From that point onwards, however, approval for the Government’s handling of the crisis began to drop, reaching a point in late June 2020 when only 32% thought the Government was handling the coronavirus crisis well.
In our latest poll, conducted almost one year later on 17 March 2021, we asked the same question. Answers were split: 47% of respondents currently think the Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well, and 45% think it has not handled the crisis well.
Looking only at the start and end points, however, does not capture the volatility of public opinion in the past eleven months. Indeed, our latest poll saw the highest proportion of respondents since April 2020 who believe the Government has handled the crisis well. The shift has been particularly marked in the past three months: in January 2021, 34% of respondents thought the UK Government had handled the pandemic well, whereas 59% thought it had not handled it well. Thus, our current figures represent a significant improvement in approval for the Government’s handling of the pandemic, even if they no longer represent the “rally around the leader” effect noticeable across Europe in the early days of the pandemic.
A similar pattern emerged when respondents were asked if Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has changed their view of him: 30% of British adults now view Boris Johnson more positively as a result of his handling of the pandemic, up from 22% in January 2021 and 14% in September 2020—but down considerably from 52% in April 2020.
There has also been a significant increase recently in respondents who believe the UK Government is taking the right measures to combat the pandemic. In our latest poll, 66% of the British public thinks the Government is currently taking the right measures to address the pandemic, whereas 50% thought it was taking the right measures in January 2021. Meanwhile, only 33% of respondents in October 2020 said the Government was taking the right measures to address the pandemic. Therefore, the Government has significantly improved over time in terms of taking measures that the public considers appropriate.
Our research suggests that the British public is much more satisfied with the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic now than in October 2020, which is likely attributable to the successful vaccination programme that is now being implemented. A majority (53%) of respondents agree with a statement suggesting that the UK Government’s handling of the vaccine rollout has made up for any deficiencies in the early days of the pandemic (when, as a strong majority of respondents agree, the UK Government was too slow to lockdown).
The belief that the Government’s vaccine rollout has made up for its previous deficiencies earlier on in the pandemic is shared by pluralities of all age groups. Conversely, only 23% disagree that the vaccine rollout has made up for deficiencies in the early days of the pandemic.
Widespread satisfaction with the Government’s vaccination programme among the British public is clear: when respondents were asked to rate the Government’s performance in a variety of areas, 76% of respondents said the Government is doing a good job at implementing a nationwide vaccination programme. This rating is the highest of all action areas, though large majorities also said the Government is doing a good job at providing up-to-date information on how to protect yourself from coronavirus and at communicating to the public the rules in place.
There are only two areas where pluralities of the British public think the Government has done a bad job: protecting care homes from outbreaks (42%) and implementing a contact tracing system (43%). Even for these areas, the proportion who thinks the Government is doing a bad job has fallen since June 2020, when the proportions of respondents who thought the Government was doing a bad job at protecting care homes from outbreaks (52%) and implementing a contact tracing system (46%) were somewhat higher. With the overwhelming majority of care home residents now vaccinated, it appears that protecting care homes in the future will not be a major issue, yet a section of the public might retain a negative view of how the Government handled this issue in the early days of the pandemic.
British respondents also think the Government is doing a better job currently in its testing programme for coronavirus in comparison to June 2020: in our latest poll, 52% of respondents said the Government is currently doing a good job at conducting a nationwide testing programme, compared to 29% who held this view in June.
The public does not rate the Government’s performance higher now than in June 2020 in all respects: the proportion of respondents who believe the Government is doing a good job at protecting the jobs at risk as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown has decreased from 63% in June to 53% currently. Nonetheless, this figure still represents a majority view.
Further, in June, 67% of respondents said the Government was doing a good job expanding NHS hospitals to stop them from being overwhelmed, compared to 55% of respondents who expressed this view in our latest poll. Part of the reason for this might be the widespread news coverage of the Nightingale hospitals in the first stage of the pandemic, which will soon be decommissioned since the NHS has been able to cope with patient numbers.
Therefore, while the overall perception that the Government has handled the coronavirus crisis well has increased since last June, this trend is not necessarily the case in all respects. The perception of how well the Government is managing the pandemic is considerably less positive now than in the earliest days of the pandemic, yet far more positive than at any point since last summer. In light of the UK’s successful vaccination programme, a substantial proportion of the British public is shifting to a more positive view of the Government’s present handling of the pandemic, which may increase further as more vaccines are administered.