Slump in Tory optimism fuels fall in Boris Johnson’s popularity, poll finds

Prime minister’s favourability rating lowest since last October as ‘vaccine bounce’ fades

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 04 August 2021 15:26 BST
Just 27 per cent of those questioned said they had a favourable opinion the PM
Just 27 per cent of those questioned said they had a favourable opinion the PM (AP)

The popularity of Boris Johnson and his government have suffered a sharp decline in a new poll which suggested Conservative voters in particular are becoming more pessimistic about the direction of the country.

The prime minister’s personal ratings in the Ipsos Mori survey were at their lowest since October, when the UK was entering a second coronavirus lockdown and before the Covid-19 vaccination campaign began.

And optimism about the country’s prospects was lower than at any point since January, as the “vaccine bounce” continued to ebb away from its peak in May.

Just 27 per cent of those questioned said they had a favourable opinion of Mr Johnson – down six points since June – while numbers viewing him unfavourably were unchanged at 47 per cent, giving him an overall rating of minus 20.

The PM’s favourability among Conservative supporters dropped 10 points, though a majority (58 per cent) are still positive towards him.

It came just days after a straw poll of Tory supporters by the Conservative Home website recorded a 36-point nosedive in Mr Johnson’s approval rating to just 3 per cent, with planning reform identified as the issue driving dissatisfaction among activists.

The Ipsos Mori survey was carried out between 23 and 26 July, in the days after Mr Johnson’s botched attempt to dodge self-isolation after coming into contact with Covid-positive health secretary Sajid Javid and following a run of negative headlines over Matt Hancock’s lockdown-breaching affair and the award of PPE contracts.

Just 30 per cent of those questioned said they believed Britain was heading in the right direction – down five points since the previous month - while numbers saying it was heading in the wrong direction increased by four points to 44 per cent.

The net rating of minus 14 on this measure was the lowest since January.

And gloom was growing fastest among Conservative voters, with the proportion expressing optimism falling from 63 per cent to 49 per cent in the space of a month.

Overall, favourable opinions of the Tories fell by four points to 27 per cent, with 45 per cent viewing the party unfavourably.

And just 28 per cent said Mr Johnson’s government was doing a good job of running the country – down four points – while the proportion saying it was doing badly rose two points to 44 per cent.

However, there was little sign of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party benefiting from voter unhappiness with the government.

Labour’s rating was little changed over the month at minus-16, while Sir Keir’s personal rating edged up only slightly to minus 15, with 23 per cent feeling favourable towards him and 38 per cent unfavourable.

Top rated cabinet minister was chancellor Rishi Sunak, who enjoyed a plus 10 favourability rating, followed by Mr Javid (minus 6).

Home secretary Priti Patel, whose popularity was measured for the first time in the regular monthly poll, plumbed depths not seen since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, at minus 39, with just 15 per cent having a positive view of her and 54 per cent negative.

The poll suggested widespread disillusionment with the government’s performance on a range of issues, compared to expectations after Mr Johnson was re-elected with a landslide majority in December 2019.

When asked in the wake of the general election how they expected Mr Johnson’s government to perform, 43 per cent said it would get a good deal for a future EU relationship, 42 per cent that it would make Britons feel proud of their country, 49 per cent improve the economy, 44 per cent improve the NHS, 34 per cent reduce crime, 32 per cent improve living standards for those on low incomes and 29 per cent reduce social inequality.

But when asked 18 months later how the Johnson administration had performed, its scores were lower on every single measure, with 25 per cent saying it had done well on the EU relationship, 26 per cent on fostering national pride, 24 per cent on the economy, 18 per cent on the NHS, 14 per cent on crime, 15 per cent on helping those on low incomes and 16 per cent on reducing inequality.

Ipsos Mori head of politics Gideon Skinner said: “The optimistic national mood we saw in the spring is slipping away, and with it favourability towards Boris Johnson and his party. 

“Having said that, there is still little sign so far of Keir Starmer and Labour pulling strongly ahead in the public’s affectations, although they have at least arrested their own fall.

“When it comes to delivery, Britons were expecting the prime minister to take the country out of Europe, and on this his ratings are highest. 

“Expectations were much lower that his government would reduce inequalities or divisions, but he may be more concerned about the gap in outcomes the public thought were more achievable – such as demonstrating improvements in the economy across the country as a whole, and spending on public services – particularly to improve the NHS.”

• Ipsos Mori interviewed 1,009 British adults online between 23 and 26 July.

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