Has the Jeremy Corbyn wreath-laying controversy changed public opinion?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
August 16, 2018, 8:28 AM GMT+0

YouGov examines the public’s reaction to the story

The anti-Semitism row engulfing the Labour party took a new turn this week when allegations were made that in 2014 Jeremy Corbyn had taken part in a wreath-laying memorial ceremony for people who had been accused of involvement in the 1972 Munich terror attack.

The controversy has dominated political headlines for the past few days – but what do the British public make of it?

How many are following the story?

Only a quarter of Brits say they are following the story either “very closely” (6%) or “fairly closely” (20%). A further 22% say they are not following the story very closely, while 27% are aware of the story but not following it. A quarter (26%) are not aware of the stories in the first place.

Did Corbyn take part in laying the ceremony?

A plurality of those aware of the story (44%) believe that Corbyn in fact probably did take part in the wreath-laying ceremony. Only a quarter (25%) think that he probably did not, with the remaining 31% unsure.

Mirroring this, 44% of those aware of the story believe that Corbyn has not given an honest account of his attendance at the memorial ceremony, compared to 21% who think he did and 34% who don’t know.

Labour voters are more likely to disbelieve the allegations, with 44% saying he probably did not take part and 42% saying he has been honest. By contrast, 69% of Conservative voters think Corbyn took part and 71% think he has been dishonest.

The public are slightly more split on a related perennial issue affecting Corbyn – that he is too friendly towards groups that have been involved in terrorism. Corbyn has always countered that it is important to speak to certain figures in order to open a dialogue for finding a peaceful solution. With these points put to the public, 38% consider criticism levelled at the Labour leader to be fair, while 29% feel it is unfair. The remaining 33% don’t know.

How opinion has changed

Among those who are aware of the stories, most haven’t changed their opinions of the Labour leader. Close to half (47%) say that they already had a negative opinion of Corbyn and still do, while 21% say they already had a positive opinion of Jeremy Corbyn and that remains the case.

Only 19% of people say their view of the leader of the opposition has shifted as a result of the controversy: 16% say it makes them think worse of him while 3% say it has improved his standing in their eyes.

The negative impact on Labour voters is less than it is on other sections of the population. For instance, only 13% of 2017 Labour voters say they think worse of Corbyn as a result of the news stories, compared to 20% of Conservative voters and 23% of Lib Dems. By contrast, 46% of Labour voters say that the scandal has made no difference to their already positive opinion of the party leader.

Corbyn has also experienced a fall in his leadership rating. YouGov’s tracker asking whether people think he is doing well or badly as Labour leader has fallen from 27% saying he was doing well in late July to 20% now. Likewise, the proportion saying he is doing badly has risen from 59% to 65%. Among those who voted Labour in 2017, the "well" figure has fallen from 53% to 44%, and the "badly" figure has risen from 37% to 45%.

It is worth noting, however, that it is not possible to see how much of this change is down to the wreath-laying controversy itself and how much might be down to other factors e.g. the earlier anti-Semitism arguing.

Photo: Palestinian Embassy, Tunisia

See the full results here