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David Cameron: the second most popular prime minister?

October 5th, 2011

Mark Gill looks at the PM’s ratings ahead of today’s speech

Prime minister David Cameron goes to Manchester as the second most popular of the last five prime ministers at the stage of their second party conferences.

In Ipsos MORI’s September 2011 survey Camerons’s approval ratings were 39% satisfied and 52% dissatisfied, giving a net score of -13. This compares favourably against the -45 net approval for Brown (in Sept 2008), -27 for Major (in Sept 1992) and -23 for Thatcher (in Sept 1980). Tony Blair was the only one of these five premiers to have the luxury of broad public approval (+31 in Sep 1998) as he addressed his party for the second time as the country’s prime minister.

Each of these premiers at this stage were better regarded than the governments they led. Remarkably, the difference in the net approval rating for the government and prime minister are almost identical for Cameron (14 points), Brown (13 points) and Thatcher (14 points). Blair (27 points higher) and Major (30 points) were even better regarded than their administrations.

However, the swing in David Cameron’s net approval ratings from the time he first became prime minister until his second party conference as prime minister is substantial. It is a swing of -22 points. In other words, at the aggregate level, 22 people in every 100 have gone from being satisfied to dissatisfied with the way he is doing his job as prime minister. The swing for Major was -21% and for Brown -30.5%.

Both Thatcher (-12.5%) and Blair (-15%) experienced lower swings in their approval ratings, even though they began their premierships poles apart. The first measure of Blair’s performance as prime minister was +60 net, whereas Mrs Thatcher managed just +2 net.

Blair, of course, stands apart from the other prime ministers not only in how his premiership began but also in the length of his honeymoon with the British public. He was also the only one of these leaders not to be facing dire economic problems as he addressed his party’s conference for the second time as their prime minister.

Mark Gill is former head of political research at Ipsos-MORI and co-author with Bob Worcester, Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines of Explaining Cameron’s Coalition.