Sir Keir Starmer has this week recorded his highest ever rating as the best potential prime minister, in a clear indication that Boris Johnson failed in his attempt to smear the Labour leader by falsely linking him to paedophile Jimmy Savile.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s most likely successor as Conservative leader, chancellor Rishi Sunak, slumped to his lowest rating yet in the regular Savanta ComRes survey, as memories of his pandemic support packages fade in the face of the current cost-of-living crisis.
The monthly poll put Labour a comfortable nine points ahead of Tories on 41 per cent to 32 in general election voting intentions, though the margin had tightened by two points since the last time the question was asked.
Mr Johnson’s personal ratings as best PM edged up by three points since January, in an apparent sign of public fury over lockdown-busting parties at 10 Downing subsiding.
But he still trailed Starmer by 31 to 39 per cent, with the Labour leader also gaining three points to reach his highest rating since the monthly political tracker began in May 2020.
Mr Sunak’s declining popularity was reflected in his Net Favourability score – calculated by subtracting the percentage unhappy with his performance from those who are satisfied – falling by seven points since last month to his lowest ever rating of +3.
While still positive, the rating marks a steep decline from the highpoint of his popularity, which reached +30 in September 2020, when millions of people were receiving furlough payments, and well below the +17 rating recorded by the chancellor this time last year.
With the withdrawal of the £20 universal credit uplift and the introduction of a 1.25 per cent hike in employees’ and employers’ national insurance contributions eating into his popularity, Savanta ComRes political research director Chris Hopkins said some may start questioning Sunak’s position as heir apparent to the prime minister.
“It’s always been easy for Sunak to be liked, due to his polished parliamentary performances and pandemic-related giveaways,” said Mr Hopkins.
“But that could only last for so long and we are finally seeing him come back to the pack, with a relatively low favourability rating.
“I would only expect that to drop further as the cost-of-living crisis bites, and particularly in April when national insurance is due to rise and his supporters may begin to wonder if he’s the candidate to back to replace the prime minister in the long run.”
Johnson’s favourability rating stood at –34 – a three-point improvement on last month – while Starmer’s was down two points to –6.
Around one-sixth (18 per cent) of those who backed the Tories in the 2019 general election now say that Sir Keir would be their choice for PM, against just 59 per cent who have stuck with Johnson.
Conversely, seven in 10 Labour voters (71 per cent) say that Starmer would be the best PM, although one in five say it would be Johnson (19 per cent).
Elsewhere in the tracker, almost half of UK adults say that they are pessimistic about the economy in 2022 (46 per cent), with just three in 10 saying they feel optimistic about it (30 per cent).
– Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,226 UK adults online between 11 and 13 February.
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