The survey, designed to provide early indications of trends in public opinion, suggests Mr Major could have reached an important turning point.
The panel of influential people, assembled by Opinion Leader Research, shows a remarkable turn-around since last summer towards approval of the Government's handling of the economy, while two-thirds believe that Mr Major will survive as Prime Minister to take the Conservatives into the next general election. The survey was conducted among a panel of 100 company chairmen and chief executives, senior civil servants, media editors, politicians and trade union leaders, designed to reflect the views of people who mould opinion in Britain today.
Since the Independent's last survey in July 1994, before the Labour leadership election, Mr Blair's ratings have increased dramatically. Those rating his "personal qualities to make a good prime minister" at 7 out of 10, or above, have gone up from 39 to 62 per cent.
Mr Major's average rating has risen faster, although from a low base. The proportion awarding him 7 out of 10, or above, has risen from 15 to 34 per cent. He trails possible contenders for the Conservative leadership such as Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, and Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr Heseltine remains the best-rated potential Conservative prime minister. But 68 per cent expect Mr Major to lead the Tories at the next election.
Most encouraging for Mr Major are views on the economy, with 67 per cent saying they think the general economic situation in this country will "get a little better" over the next year, and 15 per cent saying "a lot better".
But whereas only 38 per cent felt the Government was "handling the situation properly" last July, the figure is 66 per cent today. If these "opinion leaders" are an advance indicator of the public mood, this change of sentiment could be significant.
Poll details, page 4
Personal qualities to make a good PM
Marks out of 10
July 1994Reuse content