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No Leader of the Opposition has rated even nearly as badly as Corbyn and become Prime Minister. An analysis into the satisfaction ratings of leaders of the opposition

January 6th, 2019

In the final piece of three, Corporeal looks at the satisfaction ratings of Leaders of the Opposition

The Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is a position of great responsibility and impotence. It is traditionally the delicate art of attention grabbing, agenda setting, holding the government to account, and providing an inspiring alternative vision for government on the major issues of the day. Or if all that fails (unkind commentators might suggest that not all the holders of the office have achieved all of those objectives) at least try not to get people to remember to hate you more than the Prime Minister.

Current Situation:

Jeremy Corbyn’s most recent rating was -32, following scores of -31 in October and -42 in September. This is a return to normality for him with about half his ratings being between -20 and -40. The only sustained periods outside this less than ideal range were his first six months, and the second half of 2017 (he started rising in March, peaked in July after the election and slowly slid back down to his current level.

That slight upward shift does have one comforting note, it means for the first time in six months he is not the lowest rating Leader of the Opposition but instead is a comfortable one point ahead of William Hague after the same length of time in office. Here’s a celebratory graph of his time in office:

Historical Context:

Ratings for Leaders of the Opposition have tended to be rather less predictable than Prime Ministers but over a narrower range. They generally don’t get as popular or unpopular but bounce around in a narrower range, fuelled by lower total response rates. Iain Duncan-Smith never had more than 71% expressing an opinion validating his ‘quiet man’ nickname. Corbyn has never rated below 69%, a higher low than anyone but Thatcher (and we don’t have data from the first part of her tenure).

Corbyn has spent most of his tenure battling Michael Foot and William Hague for the bottom spot in the rankings. He and Hague share the dubious distinction of being the only ones never to record a positive rating (Foot was saved by a solitary positive rating of +2 in his first month). Here’s some lines and numbers:

Ratings

Corbyn’s high ratings mainly show themselves in higher than usual dissatisfaction ratings. He is mostly at the lower end of average in satisfaction ratings, and second to last in the dissatisfaction ratings (behind only Foot). Even during his 2017 peak  he never had lower than a 45% dissatisfaction rating.

On a more positive note for Corbyn is the 2017 election where his ratings spiked to a remarkable degree. To say that it was the greatest improvement in the run-up to an election doesn’t do it justice. He gained 30 points (from -41 to -11) from March to June (and peaked at -1 in July after the election) with roughly equal improvements in his satisfaction and dissatisfaction ratings. The next highest gains over comparable pre-election periods are in the mid-teens (+13 in ’83, +15 in ’92, +16 in ’15). How much this is due to Corbyn, and how much due to Theresa May is an open question.

Here’s some data represented in a chart

Clickbait

No Leader of the Opposition has rated even nearly as badly as Corbyn and become Prime Minister.

(The next lowest is a one-off -22 for Cameron in September 2017, then Thatcher at -15 in March of 1977).

Oh Jeremy Corbyn: greatest campaigner in history.

Caveats

Here it is Thatcher’s term where we have limited and patchy records.

The mean change in score for February-May in the years before and after elections was -1.5

Conclusions

In the event of an election it’s certainly plausible that Corbyn will show another surge, but it seems likely that he has a ceiling in terms of people he can attract. If there is an election in 2019 we may see another hung parliament if he can’t enthuse more voters, if there isn’t then you start to wonder how long the Labour party will feel without improvement in the polls before they start to get restive.

Corporeal