Majority support new lockdown measures, but it’s not helping the government

Adam McDonnellAssociate Director of Political and Social Research
September 24, 2020, 8:33 PM UTC

Public tend to think latest measures will help reduce the spread of the virus, but feel easing of restrictions in July happened too quickly

Throughout the coronavirus crisis we’ve found overwhelming support every time restrictions have been brought in to stymie the spread of the virus. This week is no exception, with the majority of the public supporting all six of the new measures affecting England that were announced this week.

Strongest support comes for the measures that are less restrictive on groups of people meeting, with 85% supporting the toughened rules around wearing face masks (85%), the advice to work from home when possible (85%) and pubs operating with table service only (82%).

Support for other measures introduced is slightly weaker, though closing pubs at 10pm (69%), reducing capacity at weddings (62%) and limiting indoor sport to six people (61%) are all still backed by a comfortable majority of the British public.

While there is support for the measures across all age groups, younger people are more divided with 35% opposing the decision to shut pubs early, and 31% opposing the new restriction of 15 people at weddings.

Part of the reason for this age divide may be down to differing views on the effectiveness of these measures. Overall, half of Brits (49%) think they will help to reduce the spread of the virus, while 38% think they will make no difference. However, the under-25s are completely divided with 41% saying they’ll reduce the spread and 41% saying they’ll make no difference. This contrasts with the over-65s who think the measures will make a positive difference by 58% to 31%.

Government approval continues to fall

Despite continued support for lockdown measures, the public’s approval of the Government’s handling of the crisis has continued to fall. Just 3 in 10 of the British public think that the UK Government are doing well at tacking the crisis, compared to 65% who say they are doing a bad job. This net score of -35 is their lowest to date, down two compared to last week.

The Prime Minister’s own ratings when it comes to handing the crisis also make for grim reading, with just 32% saying they have confidence in him to make the right decisions compared to62% who say they don’t. Rishi Sunak fares better, with 44% having confidence in the chancellor vs 33% who do not.

The two highest profile civil servants working on the crisis, Chris Whitty (the chief medical officer) and Sir Patrick Vallance (the chief scientific officer) also continue to have the public’s confidence. Whitty is backed by 50% to 22%, while for Vallance it is 36% to 18%.

Why isn’t support for the new lockdown measures translating to a popularity boost for the government?

The high levels of public support the government held back in March and April this year now seem an age away, initially falling in late May around the time of the Dominic Cummings scandal and fell further still over the last few weeks as cases began to rise.

Ever since the initial lockdown it seems the public have been concerned that the government is not acting strongly enough. In late June the public was unsure on whether it was right to loosen the lockdown. Over the course of less than a week opinion flipped from thinking the pace was right by 47% to 37% thinking it was too fast, to 48% too fast and 37% about right.

Fast forward to this week and most people (57%) think that restrictions were indeed loosened too quickly. They likewise tend to believe that the new lockdown measures they welcome nevertheless don’t go far enough (45%, vs 32% who think they are about right).

The public also seem to think the government’s priorities are wrong when it comes to the delicate balancing act of protecting public health and staving off economic collapse. Asked about these conflicting priorities, just 27% think the government is currently getting the balance right. In contrast 38% think they are focussing too much on the economy while 16% think they are focussing too much on healthcare.

The public also strongly believe that the UK has handled the coronavirus outbreak less well than other countries have; indeed a survey conducted in July showed that Britons think the UK is among the top 4 most badly damaged countries.

All of this taken together shows that the damage to the government’s reputation runs deep too deep for one popular announcement to restore. The road to recovery for Boris Johnson is a long one.

See the full results here and here