Over the course of the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government has frequently faced public criticism regarding its pandemic management. In fact, as much of the country adjusts to its newfound freedoms this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s net approval rating is currently at its lowest level since March 2020. Yet, amidst this considerable disapproval, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that a majority of Britons believe that all of the current and former politicians on which we polled would have performed either worse than or about the same as Boris Johnson during the coronavirus pandemic.
Leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer—Boris Johnson’s chief rival for national leadership—appears to inspire significantly less confidence: a plurality (33%) of respondents think that Keir Starmer would have performed worse than Boris Johnson had he been in his position during the pandemic. Meanwhile, a quarter (26%) think Starmer would have performed better than Johnson, and a further quarter (26%) say he would have performed about the same.
Faith in Keir Starmer’s hypothetical pandemic leadership quality differs according to age, with older respondents—including a plurality (43%) of those aged 65 and over—being more likely to say he would have performed worse than Boris Johnson, compared to just 23% of 18-to-24-year-olds who feel the same way.
The British public is most in agreement regarding former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, with a plurality of 48% responding that he would have performed worse than Boris Johnson had he been Prime Minister during the pandemic. A further 21% think he would have performed better, and 20% think he would have performed about the same. We observe a similar age trend regarding Jeremy Corbyn as with Keir Starmer: majorities of those aged 65 and over (62%) and 55 to 64 (58%) think Corbyn would have performed worse than Johnson, compared to 32% of 18-to-24-year-olds.
With respect to Conservative politicians, we find that pluralities think current Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (39%) and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (32%) would have performed about the same as Boris Johnson had they been Prime Minister during the pandemic. Sunak’s hypothetical leadership appears to have a somewhat more favourable standing among the public, with a quarter (24%) of respondents saying Rishi Sunak would have performed better than Johnson, compared to 14% who think Jeremy Hunt would have performed better.
Interestingly, a plurality of both 2019 Conservative voters (40%) and 2019 Labour voters (40%) say that Rishi Sunak’s performance would have been about the same as Johnson’s, a degree of consensus across party lines which we do not observe where other politicians from either party are concerned. Meanwhile, the sense that Jeremy Hunt would have performed better than Boris Johnson is limited among voters of his own party, with the plurality (48%) of 2019 Conservative voters instead thinking he would have performed worse than Johnson, compared to a plurality (42%) of 2019 Labour voters who think he would have performed about the same.
When it comes to assessing how former British Prime Ministers would have fared had they held the leadership position during the coronavirus crisis, it seems that Conservative Theresa May attracts the least favourable assessment, with a plurality (36%) saying she would have performed worse than Boris Johnson. By contrast, 29% think she would have performed about the same, and 22% think she would have performed better.
Like Jeremy Hunt, Theresa May’s hypothetical handling of the pandemic is assessed less favourably than the current Prime Minister’s by voters of her own side of the political divide, with 47% of 2019 Conservative voters—compared to 33% of their Labour counterparts—thinking May would have performed worse than Johnson. Conversely, a slight plurality (35%) of 2019 Labour voters think Theresa May’s performance would have been about the same as Boris Johnson’s, an opinion shared by 29% of Conservative voters.
Furthermore, the public is evenly split on whether former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron would have performed worse (33%) or about the same (33%) as Boris Johnson had he been in power during the coronavirus crisis. A fifth (21%) say Cameron would have performed better, with 18-to-24-year-olds (25%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (28%) the most likely age demographics to hold this view. Again, there is less confidence from voters of his own party, with the plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (45%) saying Cameron’s performance would have been worse than Johnson’s, compared to the plurality (36%) of 2019 Labour voters who say it would have been about the same.
Finally, a third of respondents think former Labour Prime Ministers Gordon Brown (33%) and Tony Blair (33%) would have performed worse than Boris Johnson had they been Prime Minister during the pandemic. Similar proportions—26% and 25% respectively—think Brown and Blair would have performed about the same as Johnson, but a marginally greater number of respondents say Blair (27%) would have performed better than say the same of Brown (23%).
Despite ongoing criticism of the UK Government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, there is little consensus amongst the public that the current and former politicians on which we polled would have done a better job than current Prime Minister Boris Johnson. However, Britons do appear split on how individual politicians would have performed, with some notable differences in opinion according to age and political leaning. Overall, we observe the most agreement with regard to Jeremy Corbyn, with almost half of all respondents saying he would have performed worse than Boris Johnson as Prime Minister during the pandemic.