Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up

Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

May 10, 2017
4 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns

Is Jeremy Corbyn unpopular? Not when you look at his ratings next to other politicians’

If you watch the news on virtually any day at the moment, you will come away with the impression that everyone – everyone – hates Jeremy Corbyn. The format is familiar: a reporter, probably Laura Kuenssberg, devotes a sentence to the latest policy launched by Labour, before interviewing a selection of three people in a town centre somewhere, two of whom say they are lifelong Labour supporters but won’t vote for Corbyn, while the other says she’s not sure about him.

The selection of vox poppers is not scientific, and it is easy to suspect that they are chosen to reflect the editorial judgement of the journalist. I watched Kuenssberg at a Corbyn campaign event in Harlow. While waiting for the leader to arrive to speak in a park, she darted about interviewing anyone who happened to be passing through with a dog. The material she gathered didn’t make it onto the evening news. Perhaps the dogs didn’t bark.

Of course, plenty of people are critical of Corbyn and news organisations can point to polls as evidence that their vox pops reflect a wider sentiment. Compared to Theresa May, Corbyn’s favourability ratings are poor. In the latest ORB poll for the Independent, 52% say they have a favourable view of the prime minister, while 42% think unfavourably of her – a net rating of +10. Corbyn is viewed favourably by 33%, but 60% have the opposite opinion, putting him on a net rating of -27. Many people don’t believe polls, but similarly large gaps have been recorded by all the polling companies.

But are these figures as bleak as the vox pops and endless media negativity suggest? Given the extraordinary effort that has gone into traducing him, for Corbyn to be viewed favourably by a third of the population is actually quite remarkable. In fact, Corbyn comes second on favourability among all political leaders, according to the ORB poll, ahead of Tim Farron, Paul Nuttall, Nicola Sturgeon (judged across the whole UK, rather unfairly) and, just for the fun of it, Tony Blair.

Farron’s net favourability rating is an unimpressive -29, Nuttall’s a subterranean -42, and Blair’s a hellish -51. Perhaps Corbyn’s score should be expected to be better, as he leads a party with more supporters – but for much of the last parliament Nigel Farage enjoyed the highest approval ratings, and the 33% who view Corbyn favourably outnumber the 31% who told ORB they will vote Labour.

The only improving leader

So although Corbyn’s favourability rating is not good, he is far from the universally detested figure of the politico-media clique’s imagination. And there is a fascinating dynamic going on beneath the surface. Corbyn is the only leader whose approval ratings have improved since the general election was called. According to separate polls by Opinium, between 19 April and 2 May Corbyn’s approval rating climbed 3 points – a modest gain, but at least he is on the up. May’s rating, in contrast, declined by 8 points. There was still a huge 45-point gap between the two, but that was 11 points less than it had been two weeks earlier. Meanwhile, all the other party leaders went backwards. Farron did particularly badly – his rating fell by 11 points in the first couple of weeks of the election.

One more thing stands out in the figures. If you look into the detail of why Corbyn’s approval rating is low, a striking age gap emerges. Corbyn’s approval rating is better among the young but terrible with the over 65s (which is a shame, because they vote). In the Opinium poll the Labour leader’s score in that age bracket is -74, compared to -30 in the next worst bracket (55-64 year olds). -74 is way out of line. Over 65s have a vastly different view of Corbyn from everyone else.

Perhaps the Labour leader should do a speech specifically about protecting pensions and go on a tour of bingo halls. That is not an entirely flippant suggestion; with his easy manner Corbyn would go down a storm. He could do the calls: ‘For the many not the few, thirty-two.’ ‘Keep the NHS free, twenty-three.’ ‘Eat the rich, number six.’


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent @alexnunns


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