How has Rishi Sunak’s reputation changed after one year as PM?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
October 23, 2023, 4:12 PM GMT+0


With Wednesday marking one year anniversary of Rishi Sunak becoming prime minister, the Conservative party’s polling situation is little better than it was when he took over. But what about the PM’s own reputation – how has public opinion on the man himself changed over the last 12 months?

On the eve of his accession to 10 Downing Street, public expectations for Rishi Sunak were mixed: 25% expected him to be “good” or “great” as prime minister, 29% “average”, and 29% “poor” or “terrible”.

A year into the job, Sunak has not lived up to these limited expectations. Half of Britons say he has been a poor or terrible PM (50%), while just 11% think he has been good or great. A third consider him average (33%), which is the prevailing opinion among Conservative voters, at 48%. Three in ten Tory voters (29%) rate Sunak’s first year in office badly, while 20% think his performance has been positive.

Britons distrust Rishi Sunak’s judgement across all policy areas asked about

Rishi Sunak came to prominence with a promise of economic aptitude. Our previous poll at the time he took office found it was the only issue among 12 on which a clear margin of Britons had confidence in his decision-making, by 50% to 31%.

That trust has since evaporated, with only 31% placing trust in the PM to effectively manage the economy, while 62% have little to no confidence in him. This represents a 45 point shift in net terms from +14 to -31 – the worst shift across all issues we asked about.

Sunak’s reputation has taken a hammering across the board though, with net decreases of at least fifteen points in every category. Sunak is least trusted on immigration (75% distrust him), housing (72%), the NHS (72%) and the cost of living (71%). Worryingly for the prime minister, his worst-performing issues cover three of his five ‘pledges’ from the beginning of the year.

Sunak’s prized reputation for competence and decisiveness has disappeared

Rishi Sunak’s pitch to Conservative members at last year’s leadership contest was that he was the candidate of competence. And indeed, as he took office, Britons agreed that he was a competent character, by 50% to 22%.

That prized reputation for competence is now gone, with the public now seeing him as incompetent by 46% to 34%. This represents a 40 point net drop, from +28 to -12.

Sunak’s personal reputation is diminished on all fronts, but in no area more than decisiveness. Here he was seen his reputation as a decisive politician go from a net score of +37 to -19 – a 55 point drop.

Belief that Sunak is strong rather than weak has also taken a substantial knock, falling from +15 last year to -35 now.

Currently, the best that can be said for Sunak by the public is that he is not racist (+50) and not lazy (+40).

Rishi Sunak is still seen as an improvement over Liz Truss and Boris Johnson

Upon taking over from Liz Truss, 68% of Britons said that they expected Rishi Sunak would be a better prime minister than this short-lived predecessor. One year on, the public still thinks that, although at a diminished rate of 59%.

They still likewise tend to think that Sunak is an improvement on Boris Johnson, with 38% saying so (compared to 41% last year). The number who think he is worse than Johnson has risen slightly, however, from 15% to 22%.

Sunak fares less well compared to other prime ministers, however. The public are now torn in a three way split when comparing Rishi Sunak and Theresa May – 30% say May is better, 28% say Sunak is superior, and 31% see them as about the same. In 2022, only 16% had thought Sunak would turn out to be worse than May.

Likewise, David Cameron is looking a better PM than Sunak to many Britons. The number saying Cameron is superior to Sunak has increased from 20% to 36%, while at the same time the number who consider Sunak to be the better of the pair has fallen from 25% to 16%.

Britons are also more likely to think that Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Mayor and Margaret Thatcher were better PMs than Sunak has been than think the opposite.

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