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15 July 2021updated 04 Sep 2021 2:22pm

Support for Boris Johnson has taken a hit – and it’s likely to get worse

The government will have few polling aces up its sleeve once the population is vaccinated and Covid cases are surging.

By Ben Walker

Boris Johnson has form for staging political comebacks. It’s no secret he’s much harder to pigeonhole than most politicians. But in recent weeks the Prime Minister’s personal ratings have taken a hit – a hit that is yet to have much bearing on his party’s lead in the polls, but whose effect may intensify in the months to come.

Data from the Britain Elects poll tracker at the end of May found 44 per cent of Brits preferred Boris Johnson as prime minister. Today that figure sits at 38 per cent, a fall of 6 percentage points in less than two months, and the lowest since March.

Support for Boris Johnson as prime minister falls 6pts
Public’s preference for prime minister when faced with the choice of Boris Johnson (Con), Keir Starmer (Lab), Neither and Unsure

In the same period, Johnon’s personal rating has fallen from a net score of +2 to a net score of -5, a shift of 7 percentage points.

So why is this happening? Well, the fall appears to coincide with the public’s growing unease over the ending of lockdown. One success of this government in the early months of 2021 was its ability to finally (albeit after a few false starts) gauge the public mood on the coronavirus crisis, setting out a roadmap in February that appeared both cautious and conservative (and therefore good) in the eyes of many. Now, the government appears to have thrown that advantage away, with the Prime Minister’s personal image suffering as a consequence.

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That hit, however, does not appear to be to the leader of the opposition’s benefit. Keir Starmer has seen a very minor boost to his personal favourability, but when it comes to the public’s preference for prime minister – a metric that proved indicative of the result in the 2015 election – the Labour leader is all but irrelevant. There, the lead for Johnson is reduced but is still close to 12 points, and the number who preferred Starmer as prime minister rose from 26 per cent at the end of May to… well, 26 and a half per cent this week.

Meanwhile, in terms of voting intention, support for the Conservatives is down 2 points, and support for Labour is up not even 1 point. The Tory lead over Labour stands at 8 percentage points.

This fall in support for Johnson suggests the net positive effects of the vaccine roll-out for the government are over – or, at the least, mostly over. His worries could well intensify in the near future. A continued surge in cases, coupled with the novelty of the vaccine success wearing out, will leave the government with few public-opinion aces up its sleeve. After the final easing, there’ll be no new “freedom days”. And so it is only inevitable that the government in August, September, and onwards, will get hit.

Will that mean Labour has a chance of leading? Perhaps. But those leads will, I suspect, be more a consequence of falling confidence in the Tories than rising Labour support. 

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