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by Margaret Taylor
26 January 2024
Tory voters see no alternative to unpopular prime minister Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak remains less popular with the British public than Labour's Keir Starmer | Alamy

Tory voters see no alternative to unpopular prime minister Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to be viewed more negatively by the British public than his Labour rival Sir Keir Starmer, but 2019 Tory voters see no alternative to him as party leader.

In its latest Political Pulse survey, which interviewed 1,087 adults between 12 and 14 January, polling organisation Ipsos found that a far larger proportion of the public hold a negative view of Sunak than a positive one – 53 per cent versus 24 per cent – with a fifth of those who voted Tory at the last general election saying they would favour Labour the next time around.

Earlier this week former cabinet minister Simon Clarke said Sunak should be replaced to avoid “extinction” for the Tories at the general election, with Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman being named by The Telegraph as potential successors.

However, while the Ipsos poll found that a fifth of Tory voters are thinking about voting Labour at the election that is expected to take place later this year, it also found that there is no strong favourite to replace Sunak among those who voted Conservative in 2019.

Favourability figures for Sunak and Boris Johnson are virtually the same among that cohort – 42 per cent and 43 per cent respectively – while 38 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters are favourable towards Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and 28 per cent towards Home Secretary James Cleverly. 

In terms of Labour, the poll found that, like Sunak, Starmer is viewed more negatively than positively, though at -13 versus -29 his net favourability rating was significantly better than the prime minister’s. In total, 28 per cent of respondents had a favourable view of Starmer while 41 per cent had an unfavourable one.

Starmer is marginally less popular than he was a year ago, when 33 per cent viewed him positively and 38 per cent negatively, while Sunak’s scores have changed dramatically in that time. Last January 30 per cent of the British public had a favourable opinion of the prime minister and 39 per cent had an unfavourable one.

The poll indicates that the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is likely to be influencing their opinion of the prime minister, with a majority (54 per cent) saying Brexit has been bad for the country. Just 23 per cent of voters thought Brexit had had a positive impact on the UK.

At the same time, almost two thirds of the population (61 per cent) said Britain is heading in the wrong direction, marking eight consecutive months when that opinion has been expressed by that proportion of people.

At a party level Labour is more popular among voters than the Conservatives, with 33 per cent of those polled saying they viewed the former positively and 22 per cent holding a positive view of the latter.

Keiran Pedley, director of politics at Ipsos, said that while there have been noises about replacing Sunak among party members, the poll suggests this would not improve the public’s view of the party, whose net favourability rating stood at -29, against -6 for Labour and -5 for the Greens.

“With a majority of Britons unfavourable towards Rishi Sunak, six in 10 saying things are heading in the wrong direction and Labour maintaining a large poll lead over the Conservatives in voter preferences, leadership speculation is to be expected,” Pedley said.

“However, it is unclear who would do a better job. No obvious alternative stands out amongst 2019 Conservative voters so far.

“Plus, given at least half of Britons have held unfavourable opinions towards the Conservative Party since early 2022, it’s not a given that a new leader will improve the party brand any time soon.”

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