Exclusive: More Britons believe the UK government has handled Covid-19 poorly than well

Despite recent election success, the UK government is more likely than not to be viewed unfavourably over its handling of the pandemic.

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More Britons than not believe the UK government has handled the coronavirus pandemic poorly, according to exclusive new polling* for the New Statesman

However, the country is nearly evenly split on the issue. When asked whether they think the government has handled the crisis well, 45 per cent disagreed and 44 per cent agreed (11 per cent responded “don’t know”), in a poll for this publication by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, which took place across Great Britain on 19 May 2021.

The poll shows that this split is not quite as even in different parts of the country. For example, Scotland has the most negative perception of the UK government’s response, with only 25 per cent saying it has handled the crisis well, compared with 58 per cent in the West Midlands – the most positive region.

There is also an age disparity, with favourable views tending to increase with age: 60 per cent of 18-24-year-olds believe the government has not handled the pandemic well (compared with 31 per cent who believe it has), whereas just 39 per cent of people aged 69-plus believe it’s been handled badly compared with 48 per cent who say the opposite.

The picture is also more critical on specific pandemic policies, such as the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which launched last summer to subsidise restaurant meals in an attempt to stimulate the economy. This scheme was later found responsible for up to 17 per cent of new infection clusters one week after its launch.

[see also: Why Rishi Sunak can’t escape blame for the Covid-19 crisis]

The British public recalls the scheme unfavourably, with just 37 per cent of respondents saying Eat Out To Help Out was a success that helped save many restaurants, compared with 46 per cent who said they felt more strongly that it was a mistake and increased the number of infections. Some 44 per cent of those surveyed said the scheme shouldn’t be reinstated, with 42 per cent saying it should, and 17 per cent saying “don’t know”.

The polling comes two weeks after the May local elections, which were seen as a solid endorsement of the government’s recent handling of the pandemic – specifically, the smooth vaccine roll-out and the recent reopenings in England, both of which were credited with boosting the Conservatives' popularity. This is despite the UK suffering Europe’s highest absolute death toll from coronavirus, and the deepest recession in the G7.

The results of this polling may indicate gradually changing opinions about the government; that, as people begin to take stock of how Covid-19 has been handled as a whole, they start to view the government less favourably. However, the results also may ultimately reveal what we have already seen throughout this pandemic: a type of cognitive dissonance that means no amount of economic and emotional devastation will trigger any electoral repercussions for the Conservative Party.

Sarah Manavis is a senior writer at the New StatesmanSign up to her free weekly newsletter the Dress Down for the latest film, TV, art, theatre and book reviews.

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