The analysis, conducted by former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, will cause alarm in Downing Street as Mr Johnson grapples with the rise in Covid-19 infections, the economic damage caused by lockdown measures, and rebellious Tory backbenchers angered by the restrictions imposed by No 10.
A total of 37 per cent of voters think that Sir Keir would make the best Prime Minister, ahead of Mr Johnson on 30 per cent.
And when asked to choose between the parties under their current leaders, 53 per cent opt for Labour, with 47 per cent for the Conservatives.
A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft asked voters to choose between Conservatives and Labour under their current leaders – 53% opted for Labour, with 47% choosing the Conservatives
A total of 37 per cent of voters think that Sir Keir would make the best Prime Minister, overtaking Mr Johnson in the poll on 30 per cent
The research also suggests that support for the Tories in ‘Red Wall’ seats where Labour voters switched to the Conservatives in their thousands to hand an 80-seat majority to Mr Johnson last year is also reasonably soft, with 31 per cent saying they would switch back to Labour, while 69 per cent would stick with the Tories.
No 10 will be unsettled by Lord Ashcroft’s finding that only 27 per cent believe Mr Johnson is doing a good job, while 21 per cent think he would be a good PM ‘under different circumstances’ and 39 per cent think he would not be a good Premier whatever the situation.
Voters are split equally between those who think his Government is doing a ‘reasonable job’ and those who think it has ‘handled things badly’, both of which rank at 45 per cent.
But 34 per cent think that a Labour Government would have handled the crisis better, with 22 per cent saying worse.
These findings are reflected in the leading politicians’ personal ratings, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak alone among the London politicians in recording a positive figure – plus 2. Sir Keir is on zero and the Prime Minister is on minus 11.
Lord Ashcroft’s focus groups were complimentary about Mr Sunak, with one participant saying: ‘Rishi has stood out for me. How he addressed the public was quite reassuring. He’s the most confident and competent of all of them.’
Lord Ashcroft’s analysis found that only 27 per cent believe Mr Johnson is doing a good job, while 21 per cent think he would be a good PM ‘under different circumstances’
Another said: ‘I felt like I was being looked after. I think he’s a star.’
Opinion on Mr Johnson was divided, with some using terms such as ‘indecisive’, ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘flaky’. Others said that he was ‘doing as good a job as he can in these times’ and ‘he’s in a difficult position challenge so we should cut him some slack’.
Lord Ashcroft also detected growing irritation with the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and other measures.
One respondent called it ludicrous, while another said: ‘It’s getting silly now. It’s starting to look like a dictatorship. Stopping people seeing their families, shutting the economy down, it’s getting out of hand. Not even one per cent of the population have got it and most have recovered. It’s blown out of proportion.’
S8,051 adults were interviewed online from September 17 to 20. Data weighted to be representative of all UK adults.
The divisions of the past have not been swept away, says LORD ASHCROFT who believes there’s still hope for the Tories despite poll showing voters are turning on ‘incompetent’ Boris Johnson
By Lord Ashcroft for the Mail On Sunday
The Covid crisis has not just derailed the ‘levelling up’ agenda and overshadowed the sunny optimism that was Mr Johnson’s hallmark until the pandemic struck: in political terms it has given the Conservatives a premature case of the mid-term blues.
Many voters on all sides take a much more forgiving view of the Government’s handling of the crisis than the media coverage might suggest.
As I found in my latest research, people spontaneously praise the furlough schemes and the speedy creation of the Nightingale hospitals.
Even critics admit that Ministers are doing their level best with no precedent to help guide their decisions.
In my poll, the proportion saying the Government had done a reasonable job in difficult circumstances matched those who thought its handling had made things worse.
Boris himself has won some unlikely hearts: ‘He’s stuck by the British people and done his damnedest to help,’ said one 2019 Labour voter, explaining his change of heart towards the PM.
But the criticisms are many: why did we not take action sooner, people ask, at the very least by restricting flights from Covid-hit countries like China?
How could they expect us to take the rules seriously when Dominic Cummings is allowed to drive up and down the country without so much as a reprimand? And why are the guidelines so confusing and contradictory?
While many blame the recent rise in cases on people breaking the rules, they think they know why it happens: ‘One minute it’s ‘go back to work’, then it’s ‘work from home’,’ said one Tory voter in the PM’s own constituency. It’s frustrating, so I think people will just do what they want to do.’
The crisis has also exposed Mr Johnson’s own apparent weaknesses, with some saying he seemed overwhelmed by a crisis that required grip and attention to detail.
While 27 per cent in my poll said he was doing a good job, a further one in five said he could be a good PM under different circumstances but was not the kind of leader we needed at the moment.
Some wonder whether he has really recovered from his own encounter with Covid. In my poll, the words most often chosen to describe him were ‘out of his depth’ and ‘incompetent’.
This scrutiny is brought into sharper focus by the advent of Sir Keir Starmer, who has made a good first impression as a professional and capable leader more able than his predecessor of holding the Prime Minister to account.
So much so, in fact, that in my poll he led Johnson by 37 to 30 per cent on the question of who would make the best PM.
When we asked people how likely they thought they were to back each party at the next Election, Labour and the Tories were tied, with those who had switched to elect Mr Johnson in 2019 less sure than most Tories that they would stay with their new party.
I found the Tories had lost their lead over Labour on being seen as competent, having the right priorities, being clear about what they stand for, and being likely to do what they say – crucial attributes on which they led comfortably during last December’s Election.
Tories need not despair quite yet. For one thing, Starmer (pictured in the Commons this week at PMQs) still has a good deal of convincing to do
This sort of thing makes many Conservatives nervous. Despite their nasty scare at the 2017 Election, Tories are no longer used to being seriously challenged by a Labour Party that seemed to have lost its political bearings.
But they need not despair quite yet. For one thing, Starmer still has a good deal of convincing to do.
Though he is clearly very different from Jeremy Corbyn, voters are much less sure that the Labour Party has really changed – indeed some even question how distinct the two actually are, given Starmer’s prominent position in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.
The spectacle of him ‘taking a knee’ also makes some former Labour voters in former ‘Red Wall’ seats wonder if he is prone to the kind of virtue-signalling gesture politics that turns them off.
This illustrates Starmer’s big electoral challenge: to unite Labour’s new metropolitan, Remain-voting base with the very different, culturally more conservative voters who backed Brexit and peeled away in huge numbers over the past two Elections, feeling that the party looked down on them and ignored their views while taking their votes for granted.
But the Conservatives have a similar conundrum of their own, beyond simply making a better fist of grappling with the pandemic.
This will centre on the economy – how much the Government can or should continue to support businesses and incomes once the current schemes expire and, especially, how the Government’s lavish but necessary spending over the past six months is to be paid for.
Last year, Mr Johnson stormed to victory by attracting both Brexit-backing voters in former Labour heartlands and culturally different voters, including many Remainers, who were not only horrified at the idea of Prime Minister Corbyn but worried that Labour would bankrupt the country.
With Brexit all but done, Corbyn consigned to history and austerity all but repudiated by the Tories themselves, that will be a much harder trick to pull off next time.
Though the pandemic continues to dominate the news, and seemingly all aspects of life, it can seem as though divisions that have shaped British politics for the past four years have not been swept away. In fact, they have not even been suspended.
The Covid crisis has not transformed the political landscape – but it has added some new contours for the parties to navigate.
Lord Ashcroft KCMG, PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster.
Full details of his research are at lordashcroftpolls.com. For information on his general work, visit lordashcroft.com.
Follow him on Twitter and Facebook: @LordAshcroft.