The mixed reaction to Boris’s first year as Prime Minister

Chris CurtisPolitical Research Manager
July 25, 2020, 11:49 AM UTC

YouGov's Chris Curtis looks at the rollercoaster ride that has been Boris Johnson's first year in office

Just as with so many things surrounding his premiership, polling results on Boris Johnson have been unconventional. The standard trajectory of a new Prime Minister is to begin popular in a so-called “honeymoon period”, before slowly falling out of favour due to inevitable mistakes. 

Instead, Johnson began as a fairly unpopular Prime Minister, certainly more unpopular than his two predecessors were when they initially took the top job. His numbers slowly improved in the run-up to the winter election, as he convinced Leave voters he was willing to do whatever it took to secure Brexit - at least enough to secure a landslide victory against an historically unpopular opposition leader.

He did eventually get a short period of incredible popularity at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic as the public rallied around him in a time of crisis, although even this was short-lived. His numbers crashed back again during the Dominic Cummings scandal.

So after an unconventional year of polling an unconventional Prime Minister, what does the data look like now? A mixed bag.

More people now think he has done badly (50%) in his first year than think he has done well (43%), and the Government he leads has an approval rating of just 32%.

The public do still think he is likeable (52%) and strong (43%), but that isn’t enough to compensate for the increasing opinion that he is indecisive (52%) and incompetent (46%).

It is true to say that the many of those numbers are no worse than when he stormed to victory back in the December election, but he now faces an opposition leader who is significantly more popular than Jeremy Corbyn was. It is also now more difficult for him to weaponise the Brexit issue to divide the country in a way that favours his electoral coalition.

On the biggest issue of the day, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, more think his Government has done a bad job (57%) than a good one (39%).

But despite that there are still three areas that will give the Prime Minister cause for celebration. Firstly, there are no signs of mutiny among the troops. The vast majority of Conservative Party members think he has done a good job and want him to stay on.

Secondly, while the public may not think he has done a great job, many are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nearly half (47%) of the public agree with the statement “he has made mistakes, but has done as well as he reasonably could have done given the circumstances”. This is opposed to the 43% who think “he has done a bad job and made crucial mistakes that could have been avoided”.

And finally, on the issue that is likely to dominate the Prime Minister’s second year in office, he and his party still hold a lot of respect when it comes to the economy. More think he has done well (45%) than badly (43%) on the issue, and it is one of the few areas where he still leads Keir Starmer, 34% to 29%.

And in the future this will be the test for him going forward. While his first year has been a mixed bag, his second can still be a success if he continues to be viewed as the best man to steward Britain out of the current economic hole.

But if he loses that, and his current poll lead in the process, then by the end of his second year the question might not be “how well is he doing?” but “who is going to replace him?”.