Public opinion does not lie where the government suspects it doesby Peter Kellner / June 17, 2020 / Leave a comment
To the list of government failures in tackling the pandemic, one more must now be added. Ministers are misreading the state of public opinion and risk making a bad situation worse.
It has been widely reported and not seriously denied that Boris Johnson is nervous about relaxing the lockdown because most voters oppose the idea. We are told that the regular private polls commissioned by his office make that opposition terrifyingly clear.
I have not seen any of that data. But while private polls often explore issues in more detail than published polls, they never tell a different overall story. And the figures in the public domain do, indeed, show that most people fear that the lockdown is being eased too fast. Let us look at the numbers, and then consider the reasons why the prime minister and his colleagues are drawing the wrong conclusions from them.
Recent polls by Opinium and Ipsos MORI have asked similar questions and produced similar results: just over half the public think the government is relaxing the lockdown too fast, while one in seven think the relaxation is happening too slowly. Just one in four think the government is getting it right.
This week a six-country study by Kekst CNC found that Britons divide three-to-one in saying the government’s priority should be to limit the spread of the disease rather than avoid a recession. That margin is greater than in any of the other countries surveyed by Kekst: Germany, France, Sweden, the United States and Japan.
The message seems to be clear: voters want economic recovery to take a back seat, at least for the time being. Relaxing the two-metre rule, getting pupils back to schools and workers back to offices and factories: Britain’s voters seem to be saying, “hold off; don’t take any risks.”
This would suggest that No 10’s assessment of public opinion is correct. But I am not so sure. Here are some other poll findings.
When the lockdown was imposed in March, Opinium found that 65 per cent approved of the government’s handling of the crisis, while 23 per cent disapproved—a net rating of plus 42. By last week, the figures were: approve 30 per cent, disapprove 48 per cent. A net rating of minus 18. The 60-point change in the net rating in…