Labour almost close the gap on the economy as Sunak’s job approval ratings enter negative territory

Patrick EnglishDirector of Political Analytics
February 22, 2022, 1:19 PM GMT+0

How soon now until Labour complete the holy trinity of leading on voting intention, the economy and ‘best prime minister’?

Political commentators often say that one of Labour’s greatest barriers to office is convincing the public that it can be trusted with the public purse. While their Conservative rivals enjoy something of a default ‘good economic management’ position, Labour leaders and shadow chancellors seemingly must consistently break the assumption that they and their plans would be bad for the British economy. Back at the end of January, we took a look at how public opinion on a prospective Labour party government had changed quite dramatically over the winter months. Yet, despite strong relative positions on issues such as housing, inflation, and reducing poverty, Labour remained six points behind the Conservatives on “which government do you think would be better for managing the economy”.

If completing the holy trinity of being ahead on voting intention, ‘best prime minister’, and economic management is the next step Labour must take if they are to win the next election, then this week’s tracker results will provide extremely encouraging reading for them.

Firstly, Labour have once again narrowed the gap between themselves and the Conservatives on the question of “who would best manage the economy”. Today’s figures show just a three-point lead for Johnson’s party. While 27% of the public think “a Conservative government led by Boris Johnson” would manage the economy better, 24% believe the country would be better served by “a Labour government led by Keir Starmer”.

At the same time, Rishi Sunak’s job approval ratings have been declining with the British public. Assessments of Sunak’s job performance have crossed into negative territory for the first time since YouGov began tracking them, with 33% of the public believing he has done a “bad job” versus 30% who think he has done a “good job” (net -3). In last month’s poll, 34% believed he was doing a good job, compared to 26% a bad one (net +8).

There is nonetheless some positive news for Johnson’s government. Though Labour are within a few percentage points of becoming the public’s preferred government for economic management, Sunak (29%) still holds a wide lead over Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves on the public’s preferred Chancellor (12%).

That said, 60% of the public do not know either way, while other YouGov figures suggest that only just under 31% have even heard of Reeves (compared to 88% who have heard of Sunak). So, Sunak’s lead could quickly evaporate – or equally, widen – as and when an election campaign begins and the public become more familiar with Reeves.