It’s been a busy two weeks in politics since our last ICM/Guardian poll. Cabinet resignations, Trump’s visit to the UK, a series of nail-bitingly close Brexit votes, the breakdown of pairing MPs on maternity leave in those votes and Labour’s ongoing antisemitism row are just some of the stories that have dominated the political news over the past fortnight.
But in this maelstrom of political news, public opinion polling can provide a refreshing insight on what impact – if any – these stories are having on the British public at large.
When it comes to our headline voting intention, we are seeing some noteworthy shifts. While we wouldn’t consider these statistically significant, in what has been a generally deadlocked political climate, we can see a shift in our polls which is larger than what we have been used to of late.
What was a two-point lead for the Conservatives has completely evaporated over the past two weeks, and has turned into a one-point lead for Labour. And while we have seen an aggregate three percentage-point swing in vote share from Tories to Labour, we shouldn’t ignore UKIP – who continue their slow and steady progress from the previous poll, up another percentage point to 5%.
There has been some speculation that events of the past few weeks have confirmed the current Conservative government as pushing a soft Brexit in the eyes of hard Brexiteers, hence the gain of UKIP at the Conservatives. On this poll alone, it’s simply too early to tell if this is the case. But should we see UKIP’s vote share increase further in our next poll at the expense of the Conservatives, then we may need to revisit this analysis.
The results are shown in the table below, with percentage point changes from our previous poll in brackets.
However, the below may illuminate some of the shifts in headline voting intention. We’ve brought back a tracker question we last asked in January on which of the two main party leaders the public trust most to do the best job in a range of key policy areas.
While most of the scores haven’t shifted much over the past half a year, one result grabs the attention immediately – the public’s trust in Theresa May being able to negotiate a good Brexit deal for the UK has collapsed. It used to be the second strongest area for May compared to Corbyn on the areas we’ve tested, beaten only by protecting people from threats at home and abroad, but now it falls to her fourth strongest area. Whereas over a third (35%) of Brits trusted May to successfully negotiate Brexit at the start of the year, now it’s only one in four (26%). It wasn’t too long ago – back in May 2017 – that almost half (47%) of the public trusted May most to do the best job of negotiating Brexit. To see this proportion collapse to just over a quarter (26%) on what’s considered the biggest issue of the day could explain some of the pressure exerted on her leadership coming from within her party in recent weeks.
The only consolation for May’s supporters is seeing Corbyn treading water in his perceived ability to successfully negotiate Brexit, with only 18% trusting Corbyn over May.
When couched in terms of negotiating Brexit, there seems to be a public appetite for someone else entirely. We’ve seen those who trust neither May nor Corbyn to negotiate a good Brexit deal jump from 31% in January to 44% in this poll. This now means that, more than in any other area we ask, a large slice of the British public tend to trust neither May nor Corbyn on Brexit. So for as long as Brexit remains the major political issue at stake, we shouldn’t expect rumours of leadership challenges to Theresa May to go away any time soon.
The other point worth noting is that trust in May to protect and improve the NHS has improved since January – with around one in four (26%) now trusting her over Corbyn on the NHS, compared to around one in five (21%) back in January. While Corbyn still leads May with almost 2 in 4 (38%) trusting him more to protect and improve the NHS, it’s possible that the promise of additional NHS spending – funded by that controversial ‘Brexit dividend’ – has had the effect of boosting May’s perceptions as a safe custodian of the NHS.
The headline results to this question are below, including historical data for the difference between the two leaders scores in previous polls.
|Theresa May||Jeremy Corbyn||May lead||Jan-18||Sep-17||May-17|
|Protecting people from threats at home and abroad||38||19||19||17||18||30|
|Managing the economy properly||35||22||13||12||14||28|
|Negotiating a good Brexit deal for the UK||26||18||8||16||14||34|
|Ensuring pupils and students get a good education||29||33||-4||-3||-8||4|
|Protecting the environment||23||29||-6||-4||n/a||n/a|
|Protecting the interests of pensioners||24||33||-9||-12||-14||1|
|Making Britain a fairer country||25||36||-11||-12||-15||-1|
|Protecting and improving the NHS||26||38||-12||-18||-18||-3|
|Improving public services generally||23||38||-15||-13||-16||-2|
ICM Unlimited interviewed a representative online sample of 2,010 adults aged 18+, between 20th – 22nd July 2018. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.