• Development Intelligence

The Boris effect: soaring popularity despite all the bad news

Steve Nimmins - (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Now when we say ‘bad news’, we don’t just mean the awful number of Covid-19 related deaths, each one a family tragedy experienced behind closed doors. No. We mean this in its wider meaning: Covid-19 infections, hospital admissions, deaths, furloughing, redundancies, business failures etc. Now that is a sentence to make any politician’s PR advisor have immediate heart failure and assume that their boss is going to have a pretty short political career. But not Boris. Let’s look at some recent comparative research helpfully put together by Morning Consult, a US polling firm:

We can see that all national leaders experienced an uptick in their approval ratings as Coronavirus washed over each country; in times of uncertainty, we look to our leaders for…well…leadership. But as they performed that role during the crisis, not every one of them has prospered. Merkel (Germany) having risen has now plateaued. Macron (France) ticked up and is now heading down. Finally the daily madness of Trump (USA) is delivering blowback all over him as his poll ratings are drooping. Abe (Japan) is heading downhill fast and Bolsanaro (Brazil) has fallen off a cliff.

But not Boris. Let’s look at his numbers in more detail:

And this was all confirmed again last week by YouGov’s latest polling, showing that Boris is still soaring in the polls at historic levels and Starmer has gone nowhere, by 2% currently performing worse than Corbyn did at the General Election in December 2019:

And this result is despite Boris being almost invisible for most of April when he was ill with the dreaded disease himself rather than hyperactively being seen to lead the Government response. So these results with all the aforementioned ‘bad news’ – the Covid-19 infections, hospital admissions, deaths, furloughing, redundancies, business failures etc – are the exact polar opposite of what anyone would have normally expected.

So what is it about Boris that people like? He’s had a chequered enough career: sacked for lying several times, caught out trying to get someone to beat up an opponent, numerous wives and affairs, photo ops and stunts that have gone wrong (the infamous zipwire incident, the falling over in a stream on live TV etc), the horribly botched leadership election campaign in 2017, his lacklustre stint as Foreign Secretary etc, but still the man/woman on the street likes him. Even when they’ve been locked down, furloughed and people they know have been seriously ill or worse with Covid-19.

As David Cameron is on record as saying about Boris: “The thing about ‘the greased piglet’ is that he manages to slip through other people’s hands where mere mortals fail”.