Latest data shows Rishi Sunak losing 2019 Conservative voters, lags Starmer on key issues for the public:
The latest political polling conducted by Survation between 1st and 6th February reveals a slight decrease in Labour’s lead, now at 16% – a 2% drop from the previous poll conducted November 24th-25th 2022. The top line could be seen as a small incremental positive for those minded of a narrow victory path for Rishi Sunak in the next general election, but the numbers below the line suggest otherwise.
Sunak’s first 100 days in office were marked by the biggest single day of industrial action in the past ten years and a number of scandals in his cabinet. He has had to defend four of his ministers during Prime Minister’s questions, and has had to sack Nadhim Zahawi after an independent ethics adviser’s report into his tax dealings, all while his deputy – Dominic Raab is under investigation for more than 24 bullying complaints by civil servants.
At the beginning of the year, Sunak set out five pledges which aim to “deliver peace of mind” to the country, and form a rationale to aid the Conservatives’ path to victory in 2024, but how important are they for people and who do people trust more to achieve them? We asked respondents how they would rank the five pledges, and notably, reducing NHS waiting times came out on top with 36% of respondents placing it as the most important issue, while growing the economy took second place with 22% ranking it as a number 1 priority.
When it comes to delivery, however, the public’s trust in Sunak’s ability to deliver on his five pledges paints a sceptical picture for the Prime Minister. On the two issues of highest importance, respondents feel more trusting towards Starmer achieving them than Sunak (42% vs 17% on reducing NHS waiting times, and 32% vs 27% on growing the economy). Out of the other three pledges, Sunak is more trusted than Starmer to deal with immigration (26% vs 18%) and only marginally on reducing the national debt (28% vs 26%), though more people would not trust either of the two (43% for immigration and 36% for reducing the national debt trust neither).
Taking a closer look at the economy, more respondents feel like neither Starmer nor Sunak would be able to achieve growth (31%), than those who trust Sunak to deliver (27%). Despite the rate of inflation beginning to slow down, the IMF predicts that Britain will be the worst performing major economy in 2023 with a 0.9% decrease in annual growth predictions, indicating a contraction of 0.6%, while the OBR already predicts a 1.3% contraction. There is little evidence indicating that the public is confident in Sunak’s ability to deliver on the promises he set out. The public’s lower levels of trust in the Conservative chancellor, Jeremy Hunt (28%) than Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves (38%) further add to the notion that the economy as an issue is slipping away from the Conservatives.
This lack of public trust in his own pledges (that many would suggest are a low bar) means that his legitimacy in the run up to the next election will, in large, stem from the current government’s perceived performance across those parameters, though it is as yet unclear how much he will be able to achieve to shift opinion prior to the start of the campaign, especially considering the public’s low confidence in the government itself. Across a wider range of policy areas, the confidence in Starmer’s ability to address key areas is higher than that of Sunak across the board, while the only area with higher confidence in the government is national security (30% for government vs 29% for Starmer).
Looking at personal approval, Starmer’s net likeability score sits at -6%, while Sunak’s is at -25%, further indicating that simply perceiving Labour’s lead as soft may be simplistic.
In terms of personal characteristics, Starmer is more likely than Sunak to be seen as a calm leader (36%) who is competent (36%) and intelligent (32%), while, worryingly for Conservative fortunes, a majority of respondents (52%) consider Sunak as being out of touch with ordinary people – indicating a pressing need for Sunak to present himself as a viable candidate who understands the needs of ordinary people prior to the general election, or there is a risk to alienate those who propelled Johnson into a super-majority in 2019.
When we look at the take on these characteristics from 2019 Conservative voters (only) – the voter group normally favourable to their party’s PM, we again see a high amount – 41% of these former voters signifying that Sunak is out of touch with ordinary people. A high percentage 2019 Tory voters indicate that neither him nor Starmer are empathetic (45%) or honest (43%), and further that they do not portray strong leadership (44%), it becomes clear that he is losing his grip over those voters.
Sunak’s overall approval rating as a leader of the Conservative party is now firmly negative with 58% saying that he is not doing well as leader (just 25% say he is doing well, a net rating of -33). In comparison, 42% say that Starmer is not doing well as a Labour leader, but 39% say that he is, only a mildly negative net rating of -3%.
If we break those figures down to 2019 general election and 2016 referendum voters, we see that 43% of 2019 Tory voters think that Sunak is not doing well as a party leader, and 52% of Leave voters are of the same opinion, indicating strong dissatisfaction with Sunak’s leadership.
Looking to Starmer’s approval ratings, the picture is vastly different. Among 2019 Labour voters (61%), say Starmer is doing well as Labour leader (32% say badly), with a similar picture across 2016 Remain voters (53% vs 35%). A third of 2016 Leave voters (30%) believe that he is doing well as a leader.
Does this make Starmer a prime minister in waiting? While there’s not a clamour for Labour’s leader at present – 39% believe that Starmer would make the best prime minister and 31% saying they don’t know, only 30% prefer Sunak – who has the inbuilt advantage for this question type of “actually being the Prime Minister” and able to spend his days looking Prime Ministerial from the appropriate platform of Number 10.
The public’s low levels of trust and confidence in Sunak across the spectrum of policy areas and personal characteristics paint a concerning picture for the Tories in the run up to the next general election. With the majority that propelled Johnson into Downing Street hanging in the air for the Conservatives,
Sunak’s performance across his self-set five pledges is intended to be a deciding factor for the public. The public however, across many of these policy areas, often think that the “other guy” would do a better job, or that neither can truly make an impact. The Conservatives lag labour on the economy, and Sunak now even lags Starmer on just general question of competence, as well as for empathy and the question of being “in touch” at a troubling time for the personal economics of voters. All in all, there is little indication that Labour’s lead in the polls is anything but strong.
Vasil Lazarov, Survation Research Team
Get The Data
Survation conducted an online poll of 1,923 adults living in the UK. Fieldwork was conducted between the 1st and 6th of February. Data tables for all these questions can be viewed here:
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