Public satisfaction with Tony Blair's premiership has fallen as he passes the two-year mark in his second term, new MORI analysis for the BBC has shown, but he remains on course for re-election.
38% are satisfied with the way Mr Blair is doing his job as Prime Minister (a sharp fall from his 47% score in April, in the afterglow of military success in Iraq), while 54% are dissatisfied. Only 30% are satisfied with the government. Nevertheless, although these figures reveal considerable disillusionment with Blair's performance, and are a dramatic come-down from the 67% satisfaction he recorded immediately after the September 11 attacks, he is still better regarded than during the depths of the pre-Iraq vilification of his policy, when his rating dipped to only 31% satisfied or briefly in the September 2000 petrol price crisis (32%), from which he recovered to win a second landslide.
Indeed, taking a longer historical perspective, Margaret Thatcher's satisfaction ratings touched 32% or below for eight consecutive months in 1986, yet she went on to win a third term with a three-figure majority. Though disappointing by his own standards (his average rating during the first two years of his first term was 64% satisfied), Mr Blair's rating of 38% satisfied is still perfectly respectable viewed in the context of inevitable "mid-term blues".
Labour retains a comfortable lead in voting intention: among those certain to vote Labour's lead is 8 percentage points, only one point less than its lead at the 2001 general election; although Labour's share has fallen to 39%, the Conservative share has suffered equally, with the Liberal Democrats and smaller parties both benefiting. Labour's lead widens further if the opinions of those who say they are not certain to vote are included. Only 23% are satisfied with the Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, while 44% are dissatisfied; these figures are better than those his predecessor, William Hague, scored at the same point in Labour's first term (20% satisfied and 55% dissatisfied), but the continuingly high 35% who have no opinion of the opposition leader emphasise his difficulty in establishing a clear public profile. However, he may take heart from having achieved a positive rating at least among Conservatives for the first time in eight months.
The public sees the most important issues facing the country as the NHS (named by 39%), race relations/immigration (33%), education (30%) and crime (25%). The return to prominence of public service issues after months when the agenda was dominated by Iraq points to the importance to the government's long term reputation of delivering on its promised reforms, especially as the public will now begin to feel the tax rises imposed to achieve them. The government will also take note of the continued high prominence of race relations/immigration — it has been among the top five issues for more than a year and frequently, as this month, one of the top three. But the sudden re-emergence of Europe as an important issue, named by 22% in May (more than three times as many as in April and its highest score for almost two years) suggests that the press-led campaign for a referendum on the draft EU constitution has had a significant impact, and that this issue may also become a threat to the government's standing.
For voting intention, MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,793 adults aged 18+ at 185 sampling points across Great Britain, of whom 971 said they were "absolutely certain to vote". For remaining questions, MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 931 adults aged 18+ at 185 sampling points Fieldwork was conducted face-to-face, in respondents' homes, on 22 – 28 May 2003. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.