MORI Political Monitor, November 2002

Defence and foreign affairs have become increasing concerns for the British public, according to a new MORI poll for The Financial Times.

Political Attitudes in Great Britain for November 2002

Defence and foreign affairs have become increasing concerns for the British public, according to a new MORI poll for The Financial Times. The uncertainty surrounding war with Iraq and international terrorism has resulted in a further rise in the number of people naming this as one of the most important issues facing Britain today, from just over a third (35%) last month to 40% now. This is lower than the levels recorded during the Gulf War or in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but nonetheless points to a heightened state of anxiety among the public. Normally the proportion mentioning defence/foreign affairs as one of the most important issues facing Britain stands at 10% or less. Now, almost one in four (23%) identify it as the single most important issue.

Domestically, health, education and crime remain the key issues in the minds of the public. The fire strike is starting to emerge as a concern -- the poll shows 11% mentioning industrial disputes as one of the main issues facing the country, a finding which is sure to have risen further following the events of recent days.

The dispute over the fire strike has seen the spotlight focusing very much on both the government's tactics and its long-term strategy. Almost 18 months since their second victory, what assessment can we make of the current standing of the Government, and the progress of the opposition parties?

Looking back on Thatcher government of the 1980s provides us with an interesting reference point here. At the same stage in her second term, Margaret Thatcher had none of the dominance in the voting intention polls that Labour under Tony Blair still enjoys. A number of the polls during the second half of 1984 saw the Conservatives neck and neck with Labour. Leaving aside the brief interlude of the fuel crisis in September 2000, the Labour Party has now been consistently ahead on the voting intention questions for a decade.

On to the detailed findings of the November poll, starting with voting intention. We can look at this in two ways. MORI's traditional figures have been based on the voting intention of all adults who name a party. Using this approach, Labour has a strong lead, with its 47% support well ahead of the 27% registered by the Tories and the 18% for the Liberal Democrats. The contrast with the Thatcher government is stark (looking back over the figures for 1984, the best month recorded by the Conservatives was in October, which saw a nine-point lead over the then Labour opposition).

However, we need to be sensitive to changing circumstances -- and in particular the marked decline in election turnout observed in recent elections. As a result, this gap between the parties is larger than would probably be found were an election to be held, since those who will fail to vote are predominantly Labour.

With this in mind, MORI is now tracking the views of those who say they are absolutely certain to vote (in recent polls, around 50% of the sample). On this basis, our November assessment for The Financial Times places Labour on 42% (unchanged since the 2001 GE), the Conservatives on 30% (-3 points) and the Liberal Democrats on 21% (+2). This measure, based on those who are most likely to vote, will be the headline figure MORI will be following in the run up to the General Election. We will also be making the traditional measurement (based on all adults naming party) available on our website, to facilitate analysis of the long-term trends.

The November results, therefore, show Labour holding firm, with the Conservatives having failed to make any inroads over the last 18 months. Before moving on to look at the Opposition, a final word on the Government. We need to bear in mind that these healthy voting intention figures are not underpinned by unprecedented popularity figures of Tony Blair, or by strikingly favourable ratings of his administration. This month, 32% are satisfied with the Government, the lowest proportion since the fuel crisis of 2000, with 56% expressing dissatisfaction.

Our poll finds Tony Blair's personal rating standing at -11 (40% satisfied, 51% dissatisfied). For month after month, through the extended honeymoon period of 1997-99, Mr Blair consistently recorded more than 50% satisfied with the way he was doing his job as Prime Minister. Those days are now behind him. However, it is instructive to note that today's figures are very similar to those recorded by Mrs Thatcher in the mid-1980s. Indeed, when we look back at prime ministerial satisfaction ratings over the years, we find that it is the "Blair honeymoon" which is atypical. Periods of sustained criticism tend to be the rule, rather than the exception.

What makes Mr Blair's position so much stronger is the state of the Opposition. Last month's MORI Political Monitor highlighted Iain Duncan Smith's failure to make a real impact on the public. Indeed, 38% did not know enough about him to give us a view on his performance. This month, in the wake of the media coverage of the Conservatives' internal debates, that figure has fallen, to 29%. The good news for the Tory leader is that the proportion satisfied has risen by four points, to 22%. The bad news is that this has been accompanied by a five point increase in dissatisfaction (to 49%). These figures are very similar to those recorded by William Hague fourteen months into his leadership: in August 1998, he recorded figures of 23% satisfied and 46% dissatisfied.

There is positive news for the Liberal Democrats. Their share of support is holding up, and Charles Kennedy enjoys a +28 satisfaction rating. They have a central role to play in shaping events over the next few years. As analysis prepared by MORI's Sir Robert Worcester for The FT shows [Poll paints a gloomy scene for Tories' election hopes], any further inroads by the Lib Dems at the next election will almost certainly be at the expense of the Conservatives, putting Tony Blair in a stronger position still.

On current form, Labour's worries over the next few years are much more likely to be caused by external issues (such as Iraq) or public services (see the Delivery Index), rather than the performance of the opposition parties.

Technical details

  • MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,928 adults aged 18+ at 190 sampling points across Great Britain.
  • Fieldwork was conducted face-to-face on 14-19 November 2002.
  • Research conducted on behalf of the Financial Times
  • Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
  • Results are based on all respondents unless otherwise stated
  • An '*' indicates a finding of less than 0.5%, but greater than zero

Q1 How would you vote if there were a General Election tomorrow? IF UNDECIDED OR REFUSED AT Q1 Q2 Which party are you most inclined to support?

Base: All absolutely certain to vote (831)

Conservative 30
Labour 42
Liberal Democrats (Lib Dem) 21
Scottish/Welsh Nationalist 3
Green Party 1
Democratic/UKIP Party 1
Other 1
Lab lead (177%) +12
Would not vote 1
Undecided 5
Refused *

The headline figures are based on all those absolutely certain to vote.

Q3-6 Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the Government / Mr Blair / Mr Duncan Smith / Mr Kennedy are doing their job?

Base: 1,003

  Satisfied Dissatisfied Don't know Index
  % % % 177%
Government 32 56 11 -24
Blair 40 51 8 -11
Duncan Smith 22 49 30 -27
Kennedy 47 19 34 +27

Q7 What would you say is the most important issue facing Britain today? Q8 What do you see as other important issues facing Britain today?

Base: 1,003

  Q7 Q7/8
  % %
National Health Service/Hospitals 12 42
Defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism 23 40
Crime/law & order/violence/vandalism 12 30
Education/schools 5 29
Race relations/immigration/immigrants 8 18
Pensions/social security 2 12
Trade unions/strikes 4 11
Nuclear weapons/nuclear war/disarmament 5 10
Economy/economic situation 4 10
Unemployment/factory closure/lack of industry 3 9
Common Market/EU/Europe/Single European Currency 3 8
Transport/public transport 1 8
Drug abuse 1 6
Poverty/inequality 1 6
Housing * 6
Low pay/minimum wage/fair wages 1 5
Morality/individual behaviour 1 5
Pollution/environment 1 3
Taxation 1 3
Inflation/prices * 3
Local government/council tax * 2
Countryside/rural life * 1
Pound/exchange rate/value of pound * 1
Privatisation * 1
AIDS 0 1
Foot and mouth outbreak/farming crisis * *
Animal welfare 0 *
Beef/BSE/Mad Cow Disease 0 *
GM/GM (Genetically Modified) foods 0 *
Northern Ireland 0 *
Petrol prices/fuel 0 *
Scottish/Welsh Assembly/Devolution Constitutional reform 0 0
Other 7 17
Don't know 4 3

Q9 Do you think that the general economic condition of the country will improve, stay the same, or get worse over the next 12 months?

Base: 1,003

Improve 11
Stay the same 41
Get worse 43
Don't know 5

Q10 And how likely would you be to vote in an immediate General Election, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 means you would be absolutely certain to vote, and 1 means that you would be absolutely certain not to vote?

Base: 1,928

10 -- absolutely certain to vote 50
9 5
8 9
7 6
6 3
5 8
4 3
3 3
2 2
1 -- absolutely certain not to vote 11

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