The Effect of the May 6th Elections on Perceptions of Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer’s Leadership

May 28, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Boris Johnson | Conservative Party | Keir Starmer | Labour Party
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At the local elections in May, the Labour Party dominated the Mayoral races, winning 11 of the 13 Mayoralties on offer. However, Labour’s failure to make significant gains at the local authority level and the loss of the parliamentary seat of Hartlepool, once a bastion of Labour support, has called Keir Starmer’s leadership into question. Meanwhile, the local elections provided an opportunity for Boris Johnson to ‘cement one-party rule in England,’ even though his personal life remains mired in controversy

A plurality (46%) of Britons say they could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson, while 37% could not, echoing results we found in April. Despite local election successes, there has been little impact on attitudes towards voting for the Conservative Party more generally. Equally, rows about the Downing Street flat refurbishment appear not to have cut through to voters.

Only 7% of 2019 Conservative voters could not see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson, along with 60% of 2019 Labour voters. On the other hand, a quarter (26%) of 2019 Labour voters could see themselves voting for the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson’s leadership.

By contrast, a plurality (43%) of respondents say they could not see themselves voting for the Labour Party under Keir Starmer, while a third (32%) could. Again, these results largely echo those found in early April, suggesting that Keir Starmer’s first electoral test has neither improved nor significantly damaged the Labour Party’s position. 

However, 57% find the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson capable of winning the next General Election in 2024, up from 48% in early April. Less than a quarter (23%) do not find the Conservative Party capable of winning the next General Election, compared to 29% in April. A fifth (20%) don’t know.

Conversely, a majority (57%) of Britons do not find the Labour Party under Keir Starmer capable of winning the next General Election in 2024, an increase from 43% in early April. 30% of British voters do find the Labour Party under Keir Starmer capable of winning the next General Election.

Our research suggests that the local election results have increased confidence in the Conservative Party’s ability to succeed in future elections under Boris Johnson, while decreasing confidence in Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. Indeed, research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies this week found that almost half (49%) of British voters think the Conservative Party is most likely to win the highest number of seats in the next election, while just 20% think the Labour Party is most likely to win the highest number of seats. These figures represent the highest result for the Conservative Party and lowest result for the Labour Party during this parliamentary term.

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Latest Poll: 24 May 2021   |   Most Recent Sample Size: 2,000

83% of the British public say they are familiar—or at least more familiar than unfamiliar—with Boris Johnson and what the Conservative Party stands for under his leadership. 10% consider themselves more unfamiliar than familiar, and just 6% say they are unfamiliar or very unfamiliar.

The vast majority (86%) of British voters think they have seen enough of Boris Johnson to have made a fair judgment of him.

Fewer British voters by comparison say they are familiar with Keir Starmer and the Labour Party. 61% consider themselves familiar—or at least more familiar than unfamiliar—with Labour Leader Keir Starmer and what the Labour Party stands for under his leadership. Although this figure represents a majority of respondents, it is still a lower proportion than the 83% who say they are familiar with what Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party stands for.

17% of 2019 Labour voters consider themselves more unfamiliar than familiar with Keir Starmer and what the Labour Party stands for under his leadership, along with 45% of 2019 Conservative voters. 

In April, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies highlighted how undecided the British public was on Keir Starmer. Now, following this month’s local election results, a stronger majority (63%) of respondents say they have seen enough of Keir Starmer in the news to have made a fair judgment of him, an increase from 53% in April—though this percentage is still smaller than those who say they same regarding Boris Johnson.

Over half of the British public (53%) says that Boris Johnson is a likeable figure, an increase from 48% in early April. The Labour Party’s attacks on ‘Tory sleaze’ prior to the local elections therefore appear to have done little damage to Boris Johnson’s personal reputation.

A slight plurality (39%) say Keir Starmer is not a likeable figure, while over a third (36%) think he is a likeable figure and a quarter (25%) don’t know. In April, a slight plurality (37%) thought Keir Starmer was a likeable figure, suggesting that events over the past eight weeks have had a slightly negative impact on Keir Starmer’s personal reputation. Nevertheless, British voters remain relatively unsure about Keir Starmer.

Indeed, Keir Starmer’s net approval rating has been below Boris Johnson’s since mid-February and plummeted to its lowest ever result (-12%) following the May 6th Elections. By contrast, Boris Johnson’s net approval rating has been positive for the past sixteen weeks and was initially bolstered by the local election success.

Population Sampled: Eligible Voters in Great Britain
Date of Latest Poll: 24 May 2021   |   Most Recent Sample Size: 2,000

In the wake of local election failures, Diane Abbott has suggested that Keir Stamer should resign if Labour loses at the upcoming Batley and Spen by-election, and prior leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey has said a defeat would result in ‘serious discussions’ about Keir Starmer’s future. Yet, British voters still don’t consider Keir Starmer a worse leader than many of his predecessors.

In fact, a plurality (43%, down 5% from April) of British voters think Keir Starmer is a better leader of the Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn, while just 19% (up 1%) think he is a worse leader. Pluralities think he has been neither a better nor worse leader of the Labour Party than Ed Miliband (24%) or Gordon Brown (32%). However, a plurality (36%, up 6%) thinks Keir Starmer has been a worse leader of the Labour Party than Tony Blair.

Altogether, results from our latest polling in May, compared to that in April, suggests that the May 6th local elections primarily influenced the public’s view of Keir Starmer and Labour’s winnability in elections but not their overall (positive or negative) views of the opposition party and its leader themselves. Similarly, success in the local elections appears to have bolstered confidence in Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party winning again in the future but not on overall views on the governing party and its Prime Minister themselves.

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.

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