POLLWATCH: Boris Johnson the most favoured politician.
Difficult decisions unavoidable for Cameron in Iraq and Syria
Politicians claim they pay little attention to polls and
focus groups; yet their parties are all about to spend small fortunes on
research to find those vital extra votes in May 2015. At this stage of the
electoral cycle, every party leader will be acutely aware of public
opinion in key marginal constituencies.
Only a negligent politician would ignore public attitudes
towards hospitals, schools, roads, public transport, or policing. But when it
comes to more esoteric issues like trade agreements, the legislative process,
and the internal mechanics of government, public attitudes are soft and easily
influenced by events. In these areas, the shrewd politician knows how to make a
decision that takes public opinion into account without being dictated by it.
The Middle East conflict falls somewhere between these two
categories of problem: on one hand, circumstances are far too murky for the
public to have an informed perspective on the right course of action; on the
other, past experience of bloody and expensive Middle East adventures qualifies
the public to make broad judgments about the kinds of risk they are willing to
take – particularly if they may have domestic consequences.
Conservative strategist Lynton Crosby wants to focus on core domestic policy issues:
the economy, welfare and immigration. Wooing Muslim voters, by adopting a
harder stance on Israel, is not a priority, and the electorate has
tired of distant military campaigns. Foreign policy adventures are seen as high risk for
Mr Cameron thus seeks quiet, “under the radar” efficiency in
those departments which are not central to his election strategy. Michael Gove
found to his cost that loudly taking his education reforms to the airwaves did
not fit with this approach. Andrew
Lansley suffered a similar fate at Health. The Government’s big achievements
are to be announced by the Treasury, with occasional flourishes from the Home
Office and Work & Pensions. Anything else is a distraction.
In that spirit, Mr Cameron had left the Foreign Office in
the hands of William Hague, an experienced politician and student of government
who knew how to avoid scandal, and popular with civil servants. He was also one of
the few frontbench politicians known outside Westminster, and relatively
NET (fav. minus unfav.)
ComRes asked, “Please indicate whether you have a
favourable or unfavourable view of each of the following.” Base: All GB adults
(11-12 June 2014; n = 2,034)
Under Hague’s authority were figures such as Baroness Warsi,
a rare ethnic minority woman in the government ranks; Hugh Robertson, a former
soldier whose ministerial brief encompassed the Middle East, North Africa, and
Counter Terrorism; and Mark Simmonds, Africa Minister. All four have now gone.
Hague’s big miscalculation was over the proposed military
intervention in Syria in September 2013. Having successfully pressured the EU
to lift its arms embargo on Syrian rebels earlier that year, and with the
situation further deteriorating, he convinced David Cameron to press ahead with
a parliamentary vote for military action in Syria – against the wishes of
backbench Conservative MPs. In a move that must have scarred Mr Cameron, Ed
Miliband then embarrassed the government at the last minute by aligning with Tory
backbenchers to block the vote.
The FCO under Philip Hammond will be seeking an unshowy, cost-effective
approach to the unfolding crisis in northern Iraq, avoiding the need for another parliamentary vote. Supporting Kurdish forces
and lobbying the governments of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan behind
the scenes will be part of this process.
But for Mr Cameron the temptation will remain – especially now
a British jihadi has been blamed for the beheading of US journalist James Foley
– to take public charge of the situation. Nearly half (46%) of the British public, and most
(56%) of those aged 65+, think that given the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Britain
and America have “a moral responsibility to do something to save Iraq from the
brink of collapse”.
Q. Do you agree or disagree
with each of the following statements?
the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Britain and America have a moral
responsibility to do something to save Iraq from the brink of total
The British Government should provide arms to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Northern Iraq
Base: All GB adults (15-17
August 2014; n=2,042).
So this week the PM announced that he was returning from his
Cornish holiday to lead Britain’s response from the front. There is little
agreement among the public, though, about what he should actually do. Only a
fifth (20%) think we should seek to defeat the Islamic State in its entirety,
and only 36% of people think we should provide arms to Kurdish forces. Support
for a policy of inaction is equally weak – less than a third (30%) think
Britain should leave the situation to run its course. A further fifth (21%)
“don’t know” how the British Government should respond.
Q: How do you think the
British Government should respond to Islamic State, the militant group
currently operating in Iraq and Syria (formerly known as ISIS)? In your answer,
please take into account the level of military action needed to achieve each
(i.e. using forces on the ground, airstrikes etc.)
Should seek to defeat Islamic State in its entirety
Should seek to stop Islamic State making any further gains in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere
Should not get involved and leave the situation to run its course
Base: All GB adults (15-17
August 2014; n=2,042).
In these situations, polls provide an important snapshot of
opinion, but usually pose more questions than they answer. Prime ministers must
be able to lead and shape public opinion, as well as follow it. Indeed, Ed Miliband’s
perceived lack of statesmanship is seen by many political observers as the biggest
obstacle blocking his path to Number 10:
Q: Please select which of
the following words or phrases apply to each party leader.
Can get things done
Base: All GB adults (8-11
August 2014; n=2,031)
Cameron’s natural advantage in this area as the
incumbent depends on his avoiding any major foreign policy mistakes. Unfortunately
for him, he cannot put foreign policy in a box until May 2015. Nor are events
within his control.
If he intervenes too
cautiously he will look weak, but if he goes in too hard he will be thought reckless. It will require adept
leadership to achieve a measured, successful and politically productive
Follow ComRes on Twitter for the latest polls and analysis:@ComResPolls
Author: Andy White, Senior Consultant
Be prepared for GE2015 with the new ComRes Election Toolkit:
The 2015 Battlebus is an online survey of 1,000 adults living in the 40
most marginal constituencies where Labour and the Conservatives share first and
second place between them and battle head-to-head to get their candidate
elected. This survey offers unique access to the opinions of those voters who
will win or lose the election for the main parties - all at omnibus price
In the run up to the election, and whilst the parties are drafting their
manifestos, this research tool is ideal for ensuring that each of the parties
know the importance of your policy issues to those who will be decisive in
getting them elected. This can be very powerful for lobbying material or for
generating media hits.
on forecasts using our long-term voting intention surveys and careful
psephological analysis, we have formulated a method of gauging the most
likely composition of the House of Commons after May 2015.
a sample of 100 of those MPs and PPCs who are most likely to take a
seat in Parliament after 2015, ComRes is offering its clients a chance
to gain vital insight into the levels of support for policy issues post
2015, enabling organisations to be on the front foot for when the new
ComRes, Four Millbank, London, SW1P 3JA ComRes
is the trading name of CommunicateResearch Ltd, a company registered in
England and Wales. Company number: 4810991. Registered office: Coveham
House, Downside Bridge Road, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3EP