What do the polls show as the election is called?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
Mark CunninghamContent Editor
May 22, 2024, 10:40 AM GMT+0

Rishi Sunak sees his lowest score on favourability and other key attributes, while the economy as a top concern dips to its lowest level since early 2022


Rishi Sunak continues to be very unpopular, with only 20% having a positive view of him while 71% have a negative view of him. This gives a net favourability score of -51 this month, his joint lowest to date (with January).

Keir Starmer remains much more popular than his rival, although still unpopular overall – 34% have a positive view of the Labour leader and 51% have a negative one, giving a net score of -17.

Jeremy Hunt continues to be an unpopular chancellor (-46 net score) and Rachel Reeves is still mostly unknown to the British public – 56% do not offer an opinion on the shadow chancellor, who receives a net score of -10.

Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy is similarly obscure to the public: 59% don’t have a view, with a net score overall of -18. The David whose job he is after – Lord Cameron – is far more well-known, and far less well-liked: 66% have a negative opinion of the foreign secretary, compared to 21% with a favourable view, for a net score of -45.

Prominent Conservatives who are tipped to be successors to Rishi Sunak are all received with various degrees of negativity: -15 for Penny Mordaunt, -23 for Kemi Badenoch (who is unknown to 56% of Britons) and -43 for Suella Braverman. Of the three, Mordaunt is the only one who is more popular than not among 2019 Conservative voters (43% like her compared to 25% who do not).

Elsewhere, George Galloway, who returned to Parliament after a nine year hiatus following the Rochdale by-election in February, is seen favourably by just 7% of Britons, compared to 60% with an unfavourable view (a net score of -53).

The new Scottish first minister – John Swinney – is unsurprisingly obscure to most Britons, with 67% not having a view on him. Overall, 9% have a favourable view of the SNP leader and 24% an unfavourable one (net -15) – a recent YouGov poll of Scots showed that he was popular with 35% north of the border and unpopular with 38% (net -3).

Opinion of the Conservative party largely matches that towards its leader (-49 net score) while the Labour party is somewhat less unpopular than Starmer (-5).

This month’s tracker rotation also includes opinion towards other major parties, namely the Lib Dems, Greens and Reform UK. The figures show that just as few people have a positive impression of Reform UK as the Tories – both on 20% – although Britons are likely to say they dislike Reform UK (48%) because they are more likely to answer “don’t know”, giving them a less negative net score of -28.

Similarly, as many people say they like the Greens as do Labour, at 42%. However, because fewer people are likely to say they dislike them – 37%, again because they are more likely to answer “don’t know” – the Greens are the only party with a positive net favourability rating (+5). On those occasions where we have asked about attitudes towards the Greens, we have consistently found them on top of the party pile, including in studies in 2021 and 2018.

The Liberal Democrats prove popular with a third (33%) and unpopular with 47% – figures which are roughly identical with the last time we asked about the party in 2022.

See the full results for our latest favourability figures here

Leader attributes

On a personal level, Rishi Sunak performs poorly across the five attributes we track: 54-62% see him as variously incompetent, untrustworthy, weak, dislikeable and indecisive. In the case of the first four, this is either the highest or joint highest score he has recorded on these measures. Only 21-27% believe he embodies the positive counterparts on this list.

Meanwhile Keir Starmer has been keen to present himself as a competent politician, and it this characteristic on which he maintains the most positive score. Slightly more than one in three Britons (37%) say they see Starmer as competent, although almost as many consider him incompetent (34%).

Nevertheless, when it comes to the other four measures, negative opinions significantly outnumber positive ones. Between 26% and 29% see him as likeable, decisive, trustworthy and strong – 43-47% hold the opposing views.

Even among those who backed his party in 2019, Sunak does not perform well. Tory voters from five years ago see him as weak (55%) rather than strong (25%) and indecisive (51%) rather than decisive (36%). They are divided 38% to 37% on whether he is trustworthy or note, although he is holding on to a positive competent score for the time being (46%, compared to 36% who see him as incompetent).

Keir Starmer, by contrast, continues to be seen favourably by Labour 2019 voters.

See the latest trackers on attributes for Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer

Expected election outcome

While Keir Starmer’s ratings among the public may be mediocre, this does not seem to be unduly damping expectations that he will be the next prime minister. Our latest poll shows that 71% of Britons say it is likely that he will enter Number 10 after the election, a figure which has been rising steadily for the last 12 months.

Likewise, following the local elections earlier in the month the proportion of Britons who expect Labour to form the government after the coming election rose to 70%, the highest level yet.

Explore the data for the trackers on Keir Starmer becoming PM and the outcome of the next election

Government approval

Support for the government remains low among Britons, with just 15% saying they approve of their track record to date, compared to 69% who disapprove – this includes 53% of those who backed the Conservatives in 2019.

Explore the data for this tracker here

Most important issues

The economy continues to be the most important issue to the public, at 50% in the most recent poll, with this month’s figures the lowest it has been since early 2022. Younger generations are more likely to say the economy is important to them than older age groups: more than half of those aged 25-49 (58%) cite it as a top issue, while just 38% of those 65+ do so.

Health is a close second on the most important issues list (44%), followed by immigration (41%). While the economy is cited by similar numbers of 2019 Conservative and Labour voters as an issue, health and immigration are substantially different. Most Labour voters (57%) consider health a top issue while only 39% of Tories say the same; when it comes to immigration, only 20% of Labour voters say it is one of the most pressing national concerns compared to 65% of Conservatives.

These three issues are by far the ones that Britons are most likely to list. Housing comes a distant fourth at 23%, although among 18-24 year olds it is the second biggest issue at 34%.

Explore the data for this tracker here

Best party on issues

Labour is seen as better than the Conservatives to handle all ten issues we track except for defence, which 22% feel the Conservatives would do a better job (although Labour follow closely on 20%). On four of our issues the Tories score their lowest or joint-lowest to date: NHS, law and order, unemployment and Brexit.

The public's perception of which party is best equipped to handle certain issues is most pronounced when it comes to the NHS. While 41% believe Labour is the most capable party to look after the health service, only 10% think the Conservatives are best suited.

The public also have significantly more confidence in Labour when it comes to housing (34% to the Tories’ 9%) and education (34% vs 13%).

On the key issue of the economy, Labour hold a smaller lead over the Conservatives, at 27% versus 20%. Similarly, the public have a slight preference for Labour over the Tories when it comes to immigration (by 21% to 15%).

Explore the data for this tracker here

Government handling of issues

Britons tend to think the government are doing a bad job across most issues (only on terrorism do they fare relatively well – 48% approve), but the issues that the public finds they are failing most on are immigration and the NHS.

Despite the Rwanda Bill passing through parliament at the end of last month and Rishi Sunak promising the first flights to depart by July, 84% of Britons still think the government is handling immigration badly, compared to just 8% who approve of how it is handled.

Likewise, just 82% of Britons say the government are doing a good job with the NHS, with only 12% disagreeing.

With the news that the UK has escaped a recession this last quarter, a quarter of Britons (24%) approve of how the economy is being handled. While this is the highest figure since March 2022, the large majority (69%) still disapprove of the government’s economic management.

On the connected issue of inflation, 29% say the government is now doing a good job (the highest since September 2021), although again, this is far behind the 62% who think the government is doing a poor job.

That said, recent weeks have seen noticeable improvement in the mood of 2019 Conservatives towards the government’s handling of economic issues. Half (54%) now say the government is handling inflation well, compared to 39% who still say they are handling it badly – in mid-March opinion had been the opposite.

Figures from last week were also the first time the number of 2019 Tories with a positive opinion of the government’s handling of the economy in general (50%) has been higher than those with a negative view (46%) since spring 2022. As of this week’s poll opinion is still closely divided, at 47% well to 48% badly.

This recovery in Tory attitudes is not matched elsewhere, however, with attitudes typically remaining static or continuing to decline since last year.

Explore the data for this tracker here

Voting intention

The latest YouGov/Times voting intention poll has the Conservatives on 20% (+2 from our previous poll on 7-8 May) while Labour are on 47% (-1).

Elsewhere, Reform UK are on 11% (-2), the Lib Dems are on 9% (no change) and the Greens are on 8% (+1).

Best prime minister

When it comes to who Britons think would make the best prime minister, Keir Starmer continues to hold a large lead over Rishi Sunak. One in three (35%) choose the Labour leader (+1 since the last time we asked on 30 April - 1 May), compared to 19% for the Tory leader (+1). Nevertheless, 42% of Britons can't choose between them (-1).

See full data for our latest voting intention and best prime minister results here

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Photo: Getty