Our survey. How Unionist are Conservative Party members?

9 Aug

In any given online discussion about Tory policy towards the Union, it is an iron law of the internet that someone will eventually pop up with a reminder that the official name of the Conservative Party is the Conservative and Unionist Party.

That’s true, of course, but it isn’t a determinist fact that a party’s name dictates what its members – or indeed its leadership – actually think. Plenty of working people feel that Labour has become a parody rather than a fulfilment of its brand, for example.

Conservative attitudes to the Union are increasingly complex, and subject to various ebbing and flowing events and tides of opinion. Hence we sought in our most recent survey of Party members to gauge at least the headline calculation: how important is the maintenance of the Union?

The good news for Unionists is that 55 per cent of respondents were unequivocal that the maintenance of the Union is of paramount political importance. (It isn’t directly equivalent, but it is interesting to look back at the question we asked back in 2017 about how Party members would feel were Scotland to leave the Union, when the same share – 55 per cent – expressed varying degrees of concern about the damage such a separation would do.)

At the other end of the spectrum, only four per cent answered that maintaining the Union is “not of political importance to me at all”.

In the starkest terms, this is still very much a Unionist Party membership, therefore.

Between the two poles are some shades of grey, albeit still with a strong lean in a pro-Union direction. A small minority – seven per cent of those surveyed – felt that the Union is “fairly unimportant to me, and less so than other political aims and objectives”. A much larger minority – over a third of respondents – answered that the Union is “fairly important…but not as much as other political aims and objectives”.

Together, that is 40 per cent who might in some circumstances be wobbly on the Union, were they forced into a choice.

The interesting question for Unionists and would-be separatists alike is what other political aims outweigh the Union for that subset of Tories, and what risk (or chance, depending on your view) is there of the two coming into conflict?

Our survey. Almost 75 per cent of members predict a Conservative majority at the next General Election

8 Aug

While it seems a long way away – and the Government has many other things to worry about present – last month ConservativeHome asked its survey panel members what they think is the most likely outcome of the next General Election.

Out of 951 respondents, 74.24 per cent (706) answered a Conservative majority. This was followed by 6.62 per cent (63) for a Labour majority (and the same percentage for a Labour-led coalition), a minority Tory government at 5.47 per cent (52), Tory-led coalition at 3.58 percent (34) and a minority Labour government at 3.47 per cent (33).

Although 75 per cent appears a rather confident estimate for the next General Election, it actually marks a slight shift from January this year, in which a bullish 92 per cent expected a Tory majority.

Obviously this was straight after Boris Johnson’s huge election victory in December last year, and a lot has changed, so it’s not all that surprising that the figure has dropped.

Even so, 75 per cent is no bad position to be in.

Our latest Cabinet Survey. Sunak stable at the top, but Hancock’s ratings are in poor health.

7 Aug
  • Johnson sinks again. The Prime Minister falls from sixth to eighth, but more significantly falls into a lower decile for the third month running. In the table we published in May, he was in the 80s. Last month, the 50s. Now, the 40s.
  • Sunak: returning to Earth? The Chancellor’s scores remain comfortably ahead of those of his colleagues, but he’s out of the 90s and down seven points. It’s easy to be popular when handing out money: paying for it is the real test of political skill.
  • A stable podium. Apart from Johnson’s exit from it there is otherwise a lot of stability at the top table. Sunak, Dominic Raab, and Michael Gove take the medal positions again, albeit with the latter two swapping places, and Liz Truss and Priti Patel likewise hold on to fourth and fifth positions.
  • Negative territory. Both Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick stay in the red, but with significantly improved scores on last week. Will they be back in black next month – or will a backlash against planning reforms or A Level grades trip them up?
  • Hancock’s rating in poor health. In April, the Health Secretary took a top-three spot with a score of +88. Now it is just +39, down five on last month, and he languishes in the lower half of the table.

James Frayne: Public support for the Government appears to have dropped – but not when it comes to individual policies

4 Aug

The conventional wisdom on the polling is the Government is fast losing public support on its handling of the Coronavirus crisis – and therefore that the Government is handling the crisis badly in reality.

While it’s true that the polls have moved against the Government from the early days of the crisis when approval ratings were sky high, the story isn’t as simple as the public turning against the Government.

Interestingly, on individual policy announcements, for example the Northern lockdown, public support remains high. The public back the Government on specifics, but not in the round. So what’s happening?

Let’s begin by looking at the polling on general Government popularity measures. The picture is clear: the public has become less sympathetic over time.

  • ConservativeHome’s newly released panel survey showed the PM’s popularity has slipped for the third month in a row.
  • YouGov’s tracker on perceptions of the Government’s handling of the crisis has shown a steady decline since the Spring.
  • Opinium’s tracker shows the same, with their most recent figures showing a net disapproval rating of -15. They also show a relatively narrow lead over Labour in the voting intention tracker.
  • A new study by Ipsos-Mori and KCL revealed an array of metrics showing public concern about the way the pandemic has been handled.

But now let’s look at the data on individual policies.

  • People appear to very strongly support the Government banning separate households meeting indoors in those parts of the country where the infection rate has risen.
  • People appear to strongly support the Government’s announcement that those with Coronavirus symptoms should now self-quarantine for 10 days rather than seven.
  • The majority of the public appears to be unsympathetic to those British people that went to Spain and got caught out by the demand to self-quarantine on their return – a decision for which the Government received enormous criticism.
  • People also appear to support restaurants having to show calorie counts on their menus – a suggestion the Government was said to be considering as part of No 10’s new focus on obesity. (I actually think this would drop like a stone when faced with a counter argument on burdensome regulations during a pandemic, but that’s another conversation).
  • The polls show the public support the requirement to wear masks in supermarkets and they want the supermarkets themselves to be tougher on compliance, presumably by refusing entry to those without masks or refusing service at the till.
  • The use of face masks has surged dramatically more generally.

What accounts for these stark differences, where the Government is losing support but where the public actually back its main policy announcements? There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.

First, it’s possible the public actually still favour extremely tough measures overall – much tougher than the Government is prepared to take. It’s possible they still favour what amounts to a near full-lockdown and, therefore, the support they give to specific policies is almost given in exasperation – as if to say: “of course they should do this, why haven’t they done so before?”

I think this is very likely the case among older and more affluent people, where the mix of fear and an ability to work from home and maintain their living standards means they take a very safety first approach. It might still be the case for many others.

As I’ve written before, the Government’s reputation has also ultimately been perversely damaged by the huge success of the furlough scheme. The fact that it worked smoothly and held up most people’s earnings meant it acted like morphine; it made people think the pandemic was almost exclusively a health crisis, not an economic one.

It made many think that the lockdown was a perfectly acceptable way to spend several weeks – not something that was crippling the economy. As such, many people believed, and still do, that the lockdown should keep going indefinitely. Were they exposed to job losses and higher taxes, they’d likely change their minds on this quickly.

In summary, it’s possible the Government is being punished for opening up the country too early.

Second, it’s possible that the little minorities of people who oppose Government action on, say, increasing the quarantine, actually all mount up to a majority overall, which brings down Government support.

So, a significant minority in the North of England might be angry about the new lockdown there, while a significant minority of holidaymakers might be angry about the new quarantine demands, and so on. In the end, the angry and annoyed on one issue accumulate to a large number. It’s as if everyone’s annoyed, but for different reasons. There’s also clearly just generally a virus fatigue: “when will it ever end?”

Third, we have to look at the role of Government communications. The Government has been accused of giving out mixed messages in recent weeks – most recently, encouraging people to go to restaurants while also telling people to stay apart and wear masks, or encouraging people to go to restaurants while telling them to eat healthily.

The Government’s view appears to be that they need a degree of ambiguity – yes, to encourage people to return to some form of normality, while always reminding them to take care because the virus hasn’t gone away. I have sympathy with this because the medium-term future is so uncertain and because the Government is balancing outrageously complex and high-stakes issues.

In truth, no one really knows what’s going to happen. However, the fact remains that their messages and stated priorities can look contradictory – and this in turn can make them look disorganised, which in turn can eat into their reputation for competence.

Fourth, it looks like party politics is returning to the public mind slowly. The gaps between Conservative and Labour voters on questions of competence and general handling reveal huge differences in opinion.

In short, Labour voters think the Government has done a bad job, even if they give support to specific policy ideas, while Conservative voters are cutting the Government slack. If Starmer starts drawing a greater contrast between Conservative and Labour policies – most obviously over economic recovery policies – we should expect these differences to become starker.

Where will the polls go? It’s hard to say. If there’s another serious spike in cases and another health emergency develops, it’s possible that people will again rally behind the Government for doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances.

But I suspect, in reality, now people have become accustomed to the habits and language of the pandemic, and now Labour has a basically competent leader, that the Government’s approval ratings will return to where you’d expect a Government that has been in power for a long time to be – with a divided country and a very large number of disgruntled voters.

Our survey. Johnson’s approval ratings for managing the crisis slip further for the third month running.

3 Aug


The results of our July survey indicate that approval ratings for the Prime Minister have fallen yet again – with just under 60 per cent of respondents (out of 1,169) saying that Boris Johnson has dealt with Covid-19 well, and 56.80 per cent saying that the Government as a whole has dealt with Covid-19 well.

To put this in context, in March of this year, 92 per cent of ConservativeHome panel members said that they believed Johnson and the Government had dealt with Covid-19 well. Johnson’s rating then slipped to 84 per cent in April (82 per cent for the Government) and fell even further in June to 72 per cent (71 per cent for the Government).

When quizzed in July about the Prime Minister’s performance, over 30 per cent of our respondents said he had dealt with Coronavirus badly (21 per cent of respondents selected this in June), and 9.58 per cent didn’t know.

Rishi Sunak, too, has suffered a fall in ratings – though this has been much less drastic than the figures for the Prime Minister.

When ConservativeHome panelists were asked in March if they supported the Chancellor’s economic plans in response to the virus, 92 per cent said yes – that figure now stands at just over 80.98 per cent, with 13.71 per cent saying that they do not support his economic plans, and 5.31 per cent answering “don’t know”.

In regards to Johnson, what could the reasons be for this fall? Retaining popularity in a pandemic is, of course, not easy for any leader. But some of this is surely due to his recent policies on obesity. As I wrote a week ago for our site, the new measures – which include banning adverts for high fat, salt or sugar products on TV and online before 9pm, calorie labelling in restaurants, cafes and takeaways, as well as ending the promotion of “buy one get one free meals” – risked pleasing no one.

Those who are pro-intervention say the moves do not go far enough, and on the other side of the spectrum, many Conservatives will be feeling concerned about the state intervening in their dietary choices, not least because they previously believed Johnson was a “libertarian” on things like sin taxes.

This concern about state intervention is not limited to obesity, though. Indeed, as I wrote in the aforementioned article, “Coronavirus, in general, has challenged what people expected from the Conservatives; there have been huge levels of spending and, with the public now forced to wear face masks in shops, many voters will need assurances of a return to a small state.”

There’s also the fact that the Government is reportedly considering asking over 50s to stay home and shield. Perhaps it is the case that people want the Government to be more hawkish at this point in the crisis – and that is what will improve the ratings.

Not least because they will soon have to tackle school reopenings – a battle over which the unions arguably won previously, and businesses are also struggling to get things off the ground. One cafe owner recently told me that he couldn’t get enough supplies, as delivery companies had still furloughed many staff.

“We need the Government to be stricter”, were his words. While not a Conservative panel member, perhaps it is this view – that Johnson needs to be tougher on getting the economy back to normal, instead of monitoring snacks – is not so far away from our respondents’ sentiments.

The slow, steady fall of confidence in Johnson’s handling of the Coronavirus continues

29 Jun

Boris Johnson’s monthly scores for handling the Coronavirus well have come in respectively at 92 per cent, 84 per cent, 72 per cent and now 64 per cent.

The Government’s rating as a whole has been 92 per cent, 82 per cent, 71 per cent and this month 60 per cent.

And Rishi Sunak’s has been 92 per cent, 91 per cent, 87 per cent..and now a bob back up to 89 per cent.

So we have a collective picture of our panel’s view shadowing that of the wider public’s – with a slow, steady fall in the Prime Minister and the Government’s standing.

That said, the rating will find a floor sooner or later, and the question is whether the disapproval of roughly a third of the panel represents it.

Johnson slightly outscores the Government as a whole…

…And Sunak is still in the business of spending money: the test of his score would be spending cuts and tax hikes.

We wonder to what degree any dissatisfaction with other matters, such as Downing Street’s handling of public order, has affected the findings, if at all.

And if frustrations with lockdown, whatever respondents may say or think about it, have eaten their way into the survey panel ratings.

Our survey. By a wafer-thin margin, a plurality of our Party member panel says that Jenrick should resign

28 Jun

As far as we know, no Conservative MP has called for Robert Jenrick to quit.  And he has no gang of internal, ideological foes waiting to pounce.  Furthermore, the signal from Downing Street has been that Boris Johnson does not want to hand his media foes and others a scalp.

So we are surprised by this finding, which shows that, admittedly by a margin of only a point, our panel of Party members believes that he should go.  (At the best part of 20 per cent, the don’t knows are high.)

Whether because they believe he should walk because he’s acted wrongly, or simply think that the planning controversy in which he’s become embroiled is bad for the Government isn’t clear.

Interestingly, while a plurality concludes that he should resign it don’t also find that Boris Johnson should dismiss him.  By 45 per cent to 32 per cent, they conclude that the Prime Minister shouldn’t.  Though that 32 per cent is roughly a third of respondents.

Rightly or wrongly, we read the panel as saying:  “Jenrick should quit, but if he won’t the Prime Minister shouldn’t have to go through all the bother of sacking him.”