King's College London / Ipsos MORI political leadership poll

On the eve of a major conference on the nature of political leadership, hosted by King's College London and Ipsos MORI, new polling and analysis from Ipsos MORI shows that the public's average satisfaction ratings of the three main party leaders combined are lower than we have ever seen at an equivalent point before an election.

David Cameron has lead on three of the five most important traits of a Prime Minister according to the British public

On the eve of a major conference on the nature of political leadership, hosted by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, new polling and analysis from Ipsos MORI shows that at the end of 2013, seventeen months before a general election, the public’s average satisfaction ratings of the three main party leaders combined are lower than we have ever seen at an equivalent point before an election. Meanwhile, in 2013 David Cameron had a lead on three of the five most important traits of a Prime Minister, according to the British public – although on the number one issue of understanding the problems facing Britain, he and Ed Miliband are neck and neck.

In new polling carried out at the end of 2013, voters were asked which characteristics they most want to see in a Prime Minister, and their views on political leadership more generally. This was combined with Ipsos MORI’s bank of trend data from 2013 and beyond. Key findings include:

  1. It seems that the British public agrees with Winston Churchill that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others. Few of us (18%) think the quality of political leadership today is better than in the past – but only one in four (24%) of us want to replace the elected politicians who run Britain with professional managers.
  2. The average combined satisfaction rating of the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties is lower today than Ipsos MORI has ever seen in recent history, at an equivalent time before a general election. The average combined net satisfaction score (% satisfied minus % dissatisfied) of the three leaders in December 2013 (17 months before a May 2015 general election) was -22, compared to, for example, -1 in December 2008 (17 months before the May 2010 election), +1 in December 2003, -3 in January 2000 and +1 in December 1995. While individual leaders have had lower scores in the past, this is the lowest across all three combined.
  3. Perhaps as a consequence of this, when asked which of policies, leaders, and the party itself most attract people to a party (the “Political Triangle”), the emphasis given to leaders has dropped to third place. When asked to distribute ten points to each of these three according to how important each of them are, voters give policies a mean score of 4.1 out of 10, the party as a whole a mean score of 3.3 out of 10, and leaders a mean score of 2.6. This compares to August 2008 and February 2010, when leaders and policies were given equal prominence, with the parties as a whole seen as less important.
  4. The most important leader traits that make people vote for a party are the classic Prime Ministerial attributes of understanding Britain’s problems, being capable, having sound judgement, being good in a crisis and being in touch with ordinary people. Having lots of personality or being likeable – while still important – are at the bottom of the priority list. This pattern is broadly similar among Conservative and Labour voters, except Conservative voters are more likely to say having sound judgement (87% very important to 77% among Labour supporters), being experienced (56% to 43%) and being patriotic (58% to 38%) are very important, while being in touch is more important to Labour voters (by 84% to 65%). The list is very similar when people are asked what makes for a good Prime Minister, except that being good in a crisis and being in touch with ordinary people are even more important, both moving up a position.
  5. According to our polling in 2013, David Cameron has a clear lead on three of the top five leader characteristics: being capable, having sound judgement, and being good in a crisis. However, on the number one issue of understanding the problems facing Britain, he and Ed Miliband are neck and neck, and they are also tied on being seen as trustworthy. David Cameron’s biggest weakness is as the leader seen as most out of touch with ordinary people – also in the top five attributes. He also has a lead over Ed Miliband on the softer - albeit less important traits – of being likeable and having a lot of personality (although he is still behind Nigel Farage on having lots of personality – the UKIP leader’s best score).
  6. The public does have some awareness of its high expectations – albeit we seem to have lower expectations of politicians than we do for government. Three in five of us (59%) agree that we now expect more of government than we do of God – but this falls to 41% who agree we now expect more of politicians than we do of God, compared with 48% who disagree.

Technical Note

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,011 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 7th – 9th December 2013. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
  • Ratings of the best leader on individual characteristics are taken from Ipsos MORI’s August 2013 Political Monitor for likeability, February 2013 Political Monitor for trustworthiness, and all others from the September 2013 Political Monitor.
  • Net satisfaction scores for the leaders of the three main parties and their average at seventeen months before a general election are shown below.
 Month General Election  Conservative Leader  Labour leader Liberal Democrat leader Average
     ±% ±%  ±%   ±%
 Dec 2013 May 2015  -13 -25  -29 -22
 Dec 2008  May 2010  +5  -16  +7  -1
 Dec 2003  May 2005  +1  -19  +21  +1
 Jan 2000  Jun 2001  -37  +15  +14  -3
 Dec 1995  May 1997  -36  +25  +13  +1
 Nov 1990  Apr 1992  -46  +1  +7  -13
 Jan 1986  Jun 1987  -24  0  +25  0
 Jan 1982  Jun 1983  -29  -40  +21  -16

(1986 and 1982 Liberal figures taken for David Steel)

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