100 days in, Rishi Sunak’s ratings are lacklustre and he has failed to salvage the Tory brand

Beth MannResearch Executive
February 01, 2023, 1:03 PM GMT+0

Rishi Sunak celebrates his hundredth day in office tomorrow. Tories have placed their hopes in Sunak to turn the party’s fortunes around after the disastrous Truss ministry and the scandal-ridden Johnson government.

But YouGov data shows that he has so far failed in his task, with the Tories trailing Labour in the voting intention polls, and are seen as less competent to handle the big issues. Likewise, Sunak’s personal ratings, while in some areas better than those of his predecessors’, remain mediocre.

Voting intention has stabilised with Labour holding over a 20-point lead, and the Conservative brand has not seen any recovery

During Liz Truss’s time as prime minister the Conservatives plummeted in the headline voting intention polls, with Labour taking the largest lead over the party – 33 points – since YouGov was founded in 2000.

Since Sunak has taken over, the polls have stabilized and the Labour lead has narrowed, but nevertheless a significant gap of 20 points remains.

Looking more specifically at 2019 Conservative voters, while it seems that Sunak has brought many of those who Truss lost back into the fold, there is no improvement on the party’s situation at the time Boris Johnson’s tenure came to an end.

Sunak has not revitalized the Tory brand

The image of the Conservative Party also sunk during the tail end of the Johnson era and that of his short-lived successor, with positive perceptions of the party hitting very low levels. In fact, on all nine attributes about the Conservative party covered by our website trackers, more people now take a negative view of the party than a positive one.

On no attribute are perceptions now better than they were under Boris Johnson, and only on the sense of being “moderate” rather than “extreme” are they noticeably better than they were under Liz Truss.

Sunak performs better on competence and trustworthiness than his predecessors, although his scores are still poor

The prime minister’s personal favourability rating is comparatively better than those of his predecessors, sitting at -29 compared to Johnson’s final score of -40 and Truss’s rock bottom -70.

On some key measures Sunak as prime minister is also seen more favourably than both Truss and Johnson.

In particular, he is seen as competent by more of the public than both, albeit on a low score of 32% to Truss’s 21% and Johnson’s 23%.

Having pledged to restore trust in politics, Rishi Sunak is indeed considered more trustworthy than Boris Johnson, although that isn’t saying much – only 22% of Britons say the prime minister is trustworthy, compared to 11% for Johnson at the end of his tenure. (This question was not asked of Liz Truss in her short time in power)

However, Britons are no more likely to see Sunak as decisive than his predecessors (all scored within 23-27%), and less of the public see him as strong, with 19% saying so for Sunak, 23% for Truss and 30% for Johnson.

Sunak is seen as a bad prime minister, and has failed to show he can manage the issues that Britons see as important

Sunak is increasingly seen as a bad prime minister, with 56% of Britons saying so as of late January. While this is not as poor a score as Liz Truss (71%) or Boris Johnson (68%) received at the end of their tenures, Sunak is still a relative unknown compared to Johnson – the discrepancy between the number of people who say Johnson vs Sunak is a bad PM is explained purely by different rates of don’t know responses (7% vs 19%) rather than people being more likely to see him as a good prime minister (25% vs 26%).

Indeed, the number of Britons who would choose Rishi Sunak as their preferred prime minister over Keir Starmer stands at just 22% - around the level Boris Johnson experienced during 'partygate'.

Sunak came to power on a promise of competence, in contrast to the chaos that reigned under his predecessors, and to focus on the issues that matter to the public, including, among other things, “economic stability and confidence”, “a stronger NHS” and “control of our borders”.

But, when looking at how well the public think the government Sunak leads is handling key issues, overwhelming numbers say the government is badly managing the NHS (85%), immigration (79%) and the economy (76%).

Dissatisfaction with government handling of the NHS has only grown under Sunak, with the figure under Truss’s time in office ending on 80%, and under Johnson 76% saying so.

Immigration is on par with around eight in ten saying ‘badly’ under all three leaders (77% for Truss, 79% for Johnson). The economy was seen to be handled equally as poorly by Johnson (78%), but significantly worse by Truss and her government (87%).

Labour have taken the lead on policy competence in most areas

It’s not just that people think that Sunak and the Conservatives are handling these issues badly that is a concern for the party at the next general election, it is also the fact that people are starting to think the Labour party would handle them better.

The economy is an area that historically Conservatives have been trusted with over Labour: indeed for most of Johnson’s time in office he held public confidence in this area. But Labour are now seen by more Britons as better to handle the issue by 29% to 21%.

Similarly, until Truss Conservatives had held their position on being seen as the better party to handle immigration, but again Labour now hold the lead (by 23% to 18%). And whilst Labour has historically been seen as the better party to handle the NHS, the distance between the parties has grown, with 40% saying Labour and just 13% saying Conservatives.

Photo: Getty

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