London based online market research agency FlyResearch has been issuing weekly polls to its research panel of over 3000 people throughout the coronavirus lockdown in the UK, in order to project how the outbreak and the implementing of social distancing has been impacting the daily life of UK citizens. This week, managing partner Greg Ward discusses the findings from the 22nd wave of the Covid-19 tracker survey with the Leaders Council, published on August 27 and sourced from data collected on August 21, which took a deeper dive into the panel’s views on how Westminster has handled the entire Covid-19 pandemic situation up to mid-August.
In the latest Covid-19 tracker survey findings, recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that Covid-19 cases are continuing to level off in England were given added weight, after minimal change was seen in the poll responses for the opening two questions on the personal health of survey respondents and that of their friends and family.
Consistent with the previous week’s poll, 52 per cent of the panel reported that they had suffered no symptoms of Covid-19 with eight per cent reporting mild symptoms. The number of those reporting to have suffered ill effects to their emotional health has dropped one percentage point to 38 per cent.
Concerning the findings for the wellbeing of the friends and family of those polled, the number of those saying that their associates are not suffering symptoms has marginally increased from 38 per cent to 39 per cent, while the number of people saying they know somebody who has been tested has gone up two percentage points to 14 per cent. The percentage of those saying that someone they know is displaying mild symptoms has fallen from 19 per cent to 17 per cent.
Elsewhere, the percentage of panellists reporting that they know somebody displaying severe symptoms of Covid-19 remains at ten per cent, consistent with the previous week, while 30 per cent continue to say that an associate is experiencing emotional health struggles.
The first major change from week 21 that Ward saw fit to specifically highlight, however, was in the statistics around the employment status of respondents.
Ward said: “In last week’s survey, we commented that there were some signs of improvement on the employment side of things but warned that it could easily change this week. Fortunately, we have not seen any regression on this positive movement.
“We did see a slight increase in the percentage of those on furlough, which is up from nine per cent to ten per cent, but at least that’s lower than the 11 per cent we saw in week 20 and even better so than the 13 per cent we saw at the worst time in weeks six to ten of the poll. Furthermore, we have seen a one per cent reduction in those reporting that they are not working, which now stands at 37 per cent, while there has been a one per cent increase up to 44 per cent in the number of respondents saying they are still employed.”
Moving on to address the responses to the question about the specific emotions that respondents were experiencing, Ward pointed out that there were still small and gradual improvements in the data.
He said: “The percentage of panellists who are saying they are ‘concerned’ has fallen from the recent high of 51 per cent seen in week 19 of the poll. This is substantial progress from the very beginning of the poll back in late March, where we saw 65 per cent of people say that they were concerned about the future after the lockdown was first announced.
“Elsewhere in these responses, we have also seen a slight increase in the percentage of respondents saying that they feel ‘hopeful’, which is up to 30 per cent from 28 per cent last week. It is still short of the peak of 39 per cent which we highlighted back in week 13, but superior to the trough of 24 per cent seen in week 19.”
Analysing the customary questions about the panel’s views on the government’s performance in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, Ward commented that respondents’ views seem to be “on hold” having not shifted in any significant fashion for several weeks.
FlyResearch calculates the panel’s views on the government’s performance by requiring respondents to score its response between one and ten, with one representing a disastrous response and ten signifying an effective response.
Ward said: “Although we have not seen any real shift in these figures for several weeks, the majority of the panel still feels that the government is doing more of a bad job than a good one. As was the case in the previous survey, 40 per cent of the panel scored the government in the bottom three range, while just 16 per cent in comparison marked their response with a top three score of eight to ten. The middle ground of four to seven is still occupied by a majority of 44 per cent. It might not make for hugely positive reading for prime minister Boris Johnson and his allies, but at least it is not getting any worse.”
Each weekly poll also includes a speed tracker survey which calculates the panel’s overall view on whether the government is acting too slowly or too quickly in easing the lockdown restrictions. This is represented by a -100 to +100 scale, with the minus extreme suggesting that the panel’s view is that the government is easing lockdown too slowly, and the positive extreme signalling that the government is moving too quickly in doing so.
In the latest speed survey, Ward reported that the overall score had dropped from +23 last week to a joint-low of +19 last seen in week 13, which signifies that the majority of the panel overall feels that the government is moving a little too quickly in lifting restrictions, but it is moving in the right direction toward a perfect score of zero which represents that the government is moving at the right speed in the view of the whole panel.
The guest questions in the latest tracker survey remained on the topic of government, and the first of them saw a repeat of a previous question which last appeared back in May in the seventh week of the poll and asked panel members to relate the UK government’s approach to that of governments in various other countries around the world. In the tenth week of the tracker survey, FlyResearch then asked a similar question, asking respondents to relate the response from Westminster to that of the devolved governments across the UK, and this also recurred in the latest poll.
Ward explained: “This week, we wanted to ask our panel members about how they felt the response from Westminster measured up against national and international governments. Broadly, the approval ratings of international governments followed a very similar pattern to what we saw back in week seven, with some fairly obvious changes for those that follow the news.
“For example, New Zealand’s response to the pandemic topped the list as the best performing government according to the panel, but respondents do see their response as being a little less effective as was the case back in May. 84 per cent of the panel felt they were doing a better job than Westminster and only two per cent thought the opposite back then, and today those figures are 82 per cent and five per cent, respectively. It is by no means a huge shift, but it presumably reflects the new cases reported in New Zealand recently.”
Continuing to report on the responses, Ward added: “At the other end of the scale, the panel felt that the US government had mustered the worst response of all to the pandemic. Back in week seven, a mere four per cent of our panel felt they were doing a better job than Westminster, while 80 per cent thought they were doing a worse one. One might assume that there is little room for the data to worsen, but it has!
“Three per cent now say that they feel the US government has mustered a more effective response than Westminster, while 88 per cent say that it is worse. On reflection, given the so-called ‘second spike’ of cases that has been seen stateside, this should not come as much of a surprise.”
In general, the new data shows that every government has worsened in comparison to Westminster from back in May, although most still fared better overall, including Australia, South Korea, Germany and China. The exceptions are the US, India - where nine per cent of the panel felt that their response to the pandemic was better than Westminster compared to 71 per cent who thought that it was worse -, Russia [11 per cent versus 58 per cent] and Spain [18 per cent versus 36 per cent].
Respondents’ views on Italy were mostly neutral, with 26 per cent saying that Rome had fared better than Westminster and 27 per cent the inverse, while the figures for France stood at 23 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively. The figures show a remarkable shift in Italy’s case compared to the seventh week where this question last appeared, since 33 per cent felt that their government had handled the response better than UK leaders, and 19 per cent holding the view that they had fared worse at that time.
The second strongest performer in the international government comparison survey following New Zealand was Australia, with 63 per cent favouring their response over Westminster’s while eight per cent felt that the UK had handled the crisis better. Even this was a decline compared to week seven of the poll, when these figures stood at 76 per cent and three per cent.
Following behind Australia was South Korea, with 63 per cent favouring their response and 13 per cent more approving of the UK response [compared with 83 per cent and five per cent in week seven. In fourth place came the German government, with 54 per cent saying that their handling of the pandemic was superior to that of Boris Johnson’s government, and 11 per cent holding the opposite view. However, this was a dramatic decline compared to week seven, when 80 per cent held their management of Covid-19 in higher esteem than the UK’s and just three per cent did not.
The one government whose figures have not shifted so dramatically is that of China. In the latest poll, 44 per cent scored their response to the outbreak as being better than that of the UK, with 30 per cent feeling that it was worse. This compared to 48 per cent and 27 per cent back in May.
With regards to the devolved governments and the panel’s view on their responses, a similar pattern formed, as Ward elaborated.
He said: “The panel feels that all three of the devolved governments are doing a better job compared to Westminster, but once more all three of them are performing less well now than was the case in May this year. Scotland has gone from 60 per cent better and eight per cent worse to 53 per cent and seven per cent now, with 40 per cent of respondents on Scotland now occupying neutral ground. Meanwhile, Wales has gone from 53 per cent better and nine per cent worse to 41 per cent and five per cent, and Northern Ireland’s figures have gone from 50 per cent better and six per cent worse to 41 per cent and five per cent.
The last of the guest questions and the concluding show of data in the latest Covid-19 tracker survey sought to delve deeper into the UK’s management of the virus by asking the panel how they felt about several individuals who are key to the government’s pandemic response.
Ward said: “Of course, it was not the case that everybody we asked knew who each of the individuals were, so we removed the ‘don’t know’ responses from the data reported this week. Three people stood out as the best performers according to respondents, and just one of them was a politician! It was the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who just about came top, pipping chancellor Rishi Sunak.
“We saw 58 per cent of respondents say that they felt Prof Whitty was doing a good job in his role, with 18 per cent going even further saying that he was doing a brilliant one. Rishi Sunak persuaded 15 per cent of the panel that he was doing a brilliant job, but another 41 per cent thought that he was doing well overall. The third top player was chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, with 17 per cent saying that he was doing a brilliant job in his role and 37 per cent feeling that he was doing at least a good job, so 54 per cent favoured his work on the whole, compared to the 56 per cent and 58 per cent backing Sunak and Prof Whitty, respectively.
“Following behind that leading trio was foreign secretary Dominic Raab who garnered the fourth highest approval ratings among the panel, but the numbers were significantly lower in comparison. Three per cent felt that he was doing a brilliant job, while 21 per cent felt that he was doing a good job overall, meaning 24 per cent on the whole feel that he was doing well.
“However, we do also need to consider the bottom end of the scale too. Despite Prof Chris Whitty being the front-runner in approval ratings, we did see a total of eight per cent of panellists say that he was doing a disastrous job and needed to be fired. That measured up against six per cent who felt the same way about Rishi Sunak, in fact, the chancellor actually had the lowest number of people scoring his personal response to the pandemic in that bottom category. Looking back at Dominic Raab, 21 per cent felt he was doing a disastrous job while a further 21 per cent also thought he was doing a bad job overall.”
Elsewhere, transport secretary Grant Shapps’ pandemic response secured the approval of 20 per cent of the panel, while 48 per cent felt his actions were in some way negative. The figures stood as 23 per cent positive and 49 per cent negative for prime minister Boris Johnson, while health secretary Matt Hancock had 22 per cent of the panel supporting his response, compared to 51 per cent who disapproved. Home secretary Priti Patel fared slightly worse, with 57 per cent of the panel feeling she was doing a bad job overall, with 19 per cent polling in support.
The worst performer among the politicians, perhaps unsurprising given recent u-turns on A-Levels and masks in communal areas of schools in areas affected by local lockdown, was education secretary Gavin Williamson.
Ward said: “Only nine per cent of respondents had anything positive to say about Gavin Williamson’s handling of affairs during the pandemic. A huge 71 per cent felt negatively about his response, with a huge 49 per cent going to the extreme and saying that they think he should lose his job.”
The final two figures of note included in this question were both civilian figures. Baroness Dido Harding, who has been responsible for the NHS Test and Trace programme, had the support of just 17 per cent of the panel for her handling of pandemic-related affairs, while 60 per cent felt negatively toward her response.
The figure who bore the brunt of the panel’s fury and sat bottom of the rankings was key government adviser, Dominic Cummings.
Ward said: “We can only assume that people have not forgotten, or indeed forgiven, Cummings’ visit to a certain castle in County Durham. Only nine per cent of the panel felt he was doing any sort of good job, while 79 per cent believed he was doing a bad one, with a huge 66 per cent of respondents going as far as saying he should be fired.”