General election 2024: how are Sunak and Starmer performing on key attributes?

Frazer KnowlesPolitical Researcher
June 30, 2024, 8:24 AM GMT+0

Over a month has now passed since Rishi Sunak stood outside a rain-soaked Downing Street, announcing that a general election would be held on 4 July. Since then, the prime minister and his main opponent, Labour leader Keir Starmer, have featured more frequently in the public eye, with both appearing in numerous televised interviews and debates. Now new YouGov data provides insight into how the two party leaders are performing on key personal attributes.

Sunak’s ratings have fallen since the beginning of campaigning

Some have observed that Sunak has adopted a ‘presidential-style’ campaign, a strategy that aims to place the prime minister in the spotlight. Such a strategy may have been warranted given that, at the beginning of his tenure, the public had a more favourable view of the Tory leader compared to his party. However that gap has since closed, and whilst public perception of his key attributes had been declining over the course of his premiership, it has become worse still since the start of the campaign.

Entering office in the aftermath of the market turmoil that surrounded Liz Truss’s short tenure as prime minister, competence had come to be seen by the public as one of Sunak’s strongest attributes. In December 2022, 39% of Britons thought that the prime minister was competent compared to 32% who believed he was incompetent, giving a net score of +7.

Since then, Sunak’s competency ratings have taken a hit, and declined more sharply since campaigning has begun. Now, 63% of Britons believe the prime minister is incompetent compared to only a quarter (25%) who believe he is competent, giving a net score of -38.

Sunak also performs poorly on all other key attributes. On trustworthiness in particular, there has been a significant deterioration in perceptions since campaigning began. In a poll in late April, our last tracker poll before the election was called, 59% believed the prime minister was untrustworthy compared to 21% who thought he was trustworthy. Now, 70% believe Sunak is untrustworthy compared to just 17% who believe is trustworthy.

Among other attributes, the British public broadly see Sunak as indecisive (61%) rather than decisive (27%), weak (69%) rather than strong (16%), and dislikeable (61%) rather than likeable (25%). These ratings have all shown a decline since before the election was called.

Sunak fails to make strong impression on 2019 Conservative voters

Even among those who voted Tory in 2019, more think the prime minister is indecisive (57%) rather than decisive (36%), weak (62%) rather than strong (25%), and untrustworthy (48%) rather than trustworthy (36%).

On competence and likeableness, 2019 Tory voters are more evenly split: 44% see Sunak as competent compared to 47% who view him as incompetent, whilst 44% think he is likeable compared to 39% who say he is dislikeable.

Stamer continues to lead Sunak on all key attributes

Although Keir Starmer’s ratings have failed to show any significant improvement since campaigning began, he continues to outperform Sunak on all key attributes.

Throughout the campaign, the Labour leader has been keen to highlight his time as Director of Public Prosecutions and present himself as a capable administrator. Whilst this is Starmer’s best performing attribute, the public are yet to be fully convinced. An equal number of Britons view Starmer as competent (40%) as they do incompetent (40%). Nevertheless, this net score (±0) is still considerably higher than the prime minister’s.

Starmer’s ratings on other key attributes are less impressive. Britons broadly see the Labour leader as untrustworthy (49%) rather than trustworthy (29%), weak (46%) rather than strong (28%), and dislikeable (47%) rather than likeable (32%). Whilst these ratings are rather underwhelming for a leader who is projected to win a large majority at the forthcoming election, they are still a marked improvement on the prime minister’s.

On decisiveness, the two leaders are more evenly matched. A frequent attack line employed by Sunak during this election’s TV debates has been to portray Starmer as continually changing his mind on various issues. Around half of Britons (52%) see the Labour leader as indecisive compared to 28% who think he is decisive.

While this may be his weakest attribute overall, Starmer’s net rating for decisiveness still outpaces that of his rival, at -24 compared to -34 for Sunak.

See the full results here

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Photo: Getty