Labour voters are lukewarm on Corbyn, just like Miliband

Labour voters are lukewarm on Corbyn, just like Miliband

The paradox of pre-election polling throughout the last parliament was that David Cameron and the Conservatives were ahead on who voters trusted to handle the economy and which party leader had the best approval ratings but, at the same time, Labour were level pegging or near enough when it came to who people were going to vote for.

One of those numbers was misleading us and of course we all now know which one.

The general election result vs. our final poll

So taking the fact that trailing on leadership and the economy appears to lead to a heavy election defeat, what should we make of the new Labour leader’s ratings?

As our recent poll discovered, Jeremy Corbyn trails David Cameron by a significant margin, by 41% to 22%, on who would be the best prime minister. By comparison, in April this year, Ed Miliband trailed Mr Cameron by 23% to 37% on this question.

 

However, remember that Mr Miliband’s ratings were during the heat of an election campaign when Labour sympathisers were broadly falling in line and before David Cameron’s reputation was given the inevitable boost from his unexpected win. Factor in the natural advantage of incumbency that any prime minister gets with this question and maybe Mr Corbyn’s figure doesn’t look so damning.

The same is also true of party leader approval ratings. Below are the final figures we recorded for Ed Miliband, before it became no longer relevant to ask about him, and our most recent figures for Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Here again, Mr Corbyn’s ratings are slightly worse than Ed Miliband’s but the striking thing is their similarity. For reference, David Cameron’s figures remain virtually identical in both polls, 44% approving, 42% disapproving just before the election and 42% on either side now.

The other figures from our poll pitted Mr Corbyn against the likely candidates for Conservative leader after David Cameron’s promised resignation and what we see here is that only Boris Johnson, with his national profile and name recognition, has a significant lead over Mr Corbyn. Indeed the two more “serious” candidates, George Osborne and Theresa May, are about level with a vast middle ground up for grabs. Whether one side or another has a better chance with this middle ground is up for debate and the pattern of Conservative voters falling lock-step behind their leader will no doubt benefit whoever succeeds Mr Cameron. But it does suggest that, compared to those of us who follow politics religiously, public perceptions of the party leaders are nowhere near as concrete and unchangeable.

The question then is what qualifies as good news? Given the predictions of doom from centrist Labour MPs, former ministers and prime ministers, there are many who would consider “only doing as badly as Ed Miliband” as something of a win. Particularly given that the Ed Miliband figures come from a time when he was thought to be doing quite well and having a ‘good’ election campaign.

But Ed Miliband lost quite dramatically and shouldn’t a party be aiming to win rather than just “not lose catastrophically”? Because the other side of this coin is that as a new party leader, Mr Corbyn should be doing much better and enjoying a honeymoon period with positive ratings. The fact that he clearly isn’t means that he has no cushion for when things get really tough later down the line.

The question of course is how these figures change given that Mr Corbyn has only been in the job for a month. Unfortunately Opinium only started tracking leader ratings once Miliband had been in the job for two years. By the time we are able to make direct comparisons, we will have some actual electoral evidence to judge him by as well.