Michael Howard is struggling to make his mark with the electorate. But failing, so far, to engage floating voters. The election is likely to be called next April, just nine months away, for a 5th May election day.
After Howard's election as Tory Leader nine months ago, morale soared among Conservative MPs as he tore into Labour at the dispatch box and on television. Most recently, they've sat on their hands. Nothing he has done seems so far to have persuaded floating voters that he is Jack, the Giant Killer, who will topple Tony Blair.
Tory poll ratings have held pretty solid in most public opinion polls this past six months around 33 percent, plus or minus two percent, just where they were at the last election when they were swamped in a second Labour landslide. So things still look decidedly gloomy for the Tories generally, and especially for Howard, whose own performance is now seen negatively by 42 percent who are now saying they are dissatisfied with his performance and only his core support of 26 percent satisfied.
Only among Tory supporters are there more who are satisfied than dissatisfied, and over a quarter of them say they are unhappy with his performance to date.
A year or so before the last six elections, MORI's satisfaction ratings for the Leader of the opposition have shown that no opposition leader with more negative ratings than positive has won the following election. Howard's -16 percent net rating now is worse than was Kinnock's in either 1986 or 1991, and not much better than Hague's in 2000.
The latest MORI Social Research Institute's latest Delivery Index finds that public optimism about Government policies on public services is at its highest for over two years. This suggests that as the General Election approaches, the Government may be starting to claw back the ground it has lost since 2001 on perceptions of improvements in public services. This will certainly make the mountain higher and steeper than it already is for Michael Howard and the Tories' hope of overturning the 160+ Labour majority in the House.
The proportion of the public agreeing that "this government's policies will improve the state of Britain's public services" is now 39% — its highest level since November 2001, six months after the last election. On balance, opinion is still negative with just over half (52%) thinking public services will get worse in the long-term, but this is significantly lower than the 57-59% range recorded in the second part of 2003.
A similar pattern is shown by the public's rising confidence in Labour's ability to improve the state of the economy. Perceptions are generally more favourable than a year ago, in the wake of the Iraq war. Recent rises in interest rates and publicity over possible fuel price rises, the threatened fall in house prices, continuing problems in Iraq, and other problems facing the government, have not made any impact.
The state of the health service is now of concern to more people that the war, with 44% of the public saying that health care and the NHS are among the most important issues facing Britain today. Yet the public's assessment of prospects for the NHS is now "in the black", just. This marks an improvement on the -10 negative level MORI recorded last year.
In fact, on the five key domestic issues, Labour's ratings are up: health up 11 points, education up 9, transport up 11, crime up 5 and environment up 4. And on their management of the economy, up 12 from a year ago.
And just nine months to go.
MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,988 adults aged 18+ in 202 sampling points across Great Britain, in person, from 22 — 27 July 2004. Data were weighted to match the profile of the adult population.
Copyright: MORI/Independent on Sunday
Key Political Findings
|Month of Polling
||Voting Intention ('Certain')
||Satisfaction Rating (% satisfied/dissatisfied)
||Economic Optimism Index
||Issues Concerning Britain (Top 3)
Lib Dems 18%
|Government 26% / 62%
Blair 29% / 61%
Howard 30% / 31%
Kennedy 38% / 24%
(Europe 17%, in 6th place)
Lib Dems 19%
|Government 27% / 62%
Blair 30% / 61%
Howard 26% / 38%
Kennedy 36% / 28%
(Europe 16%, in 7th place)
Lib Dems 24%
|Government 27% / 64%
Blair 30% / 63%
Howard 26% / 42%
Kennedy 44% / 26%
(Europe 11%, in 7th place)