Coronavirus reaction pushes PM’s popularity into positive territory

Adam McDonnellResearch Director of Political and Social Research
March 24, 2020, 10:30 AM GMT+0

For the first time since becoming Prime Minister in July, Johnson’s fans outweigh his detractors – but he remains less popular than Chancellor Rishi Sunak

When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last July he was widely recognised, but not popular. Only a third of the public (33%) held a favourable view of him in his first week in office, and 54% had a negative opinion, giving a net score of -21. Even after delivering a Conservative majority last December his rating remained in negative territory at -11.

With focus moving to tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the first half of March, Johnson’s numbers modestly improved but were still negative at -3 (43% viewing him favourably, 46% unfavourably) in the middle of last week.

However, our latest figures show there has been a shift in public approval, with over half (55%) now having a favourable opinion of the Prime Minister and just over third (35%) having an unfavourable opinion. This leaves him with a net score of +20, his highest rating by some distance since becoming leader.

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Most of this improvement has come from voters who didn’t back the Conservatives in 2019. Last week only one in ten (11%) Labour voters had a favourable view of Johnson, and now it’s a quarter (24%). Similarly amongst Lib Dems, 38% now have a positive opinion of him, up from 18% last week.

If the Prime Minister’s ratings look impressive, they are dwarfed by his Chancellor’s, who is now seen favourably by 60% of the public and unfavourably by just 11%. This net score of +49 is a huge improvement from just a month ago when 12% saw him favourably and 18% unfavourably, giving him a net score of -6. At this time just 30% of the public felt they knew enough about the Chancellor to provide an answer.

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In his short time in office, Rishi Sunak has been thrown in the deep end, delivering a budget weeks after getting the job and then overseeing one of the largest emergency economic packages the UK has ever seen amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Following the budget his net score rose to +8 and then last week after his first coronavirus press conference it improved again to +18.

What is possibly more remarkable about Sunak’s ratings is that he has cross-party approval. Twice as many 2019 Labour voters have a favourable opinion of the Chancellor than those who have an unfavourable view (50% to 25%) while amongst those who voted Lib Dem in December, 68% say favourable, with just 10% unfavourable.

It is worth noting that during times of crisis there is often a “rallying round the flag” effect, with the public becoming more supportive of the Government and its officials.

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There is some evidence of this in the ratings of other cabinet ministers, who despite having limited public involvement in tackling coronavirus, have also seen a boost in their favourability scores.

Image: Getty

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