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Public views on party leaders

Theresa May is determined, stands up for Britain, and is up to the job of being Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, is out of his depth, weak, and out of touch. These are the clear conclusions of new Populus research, as published exclusively by The Mail Online, exploring how the British public view the party leaders.

The research explains the Conservatives’ decision to brand those running for office as “Theresa May’s local candidates” and the Conservative Party as a whole as “Theresa May’s team.”

Focusing the campaign around Theresa May is a deliberate strategy to emphasise the Conservatives’ greatest strength – a popular, respected leader – and create contrast with Labour’s weakness, its out of his depth, and out of touch leader.

It gives credence too to reports that some Labour candidates are removing references to their party leader in campaign materials or avoiding photos with Jeremy Corbyn.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn

We asked the public to choose three descriptive terms to describe the main party leaders. For all four leaders, we used the same list of twenty descriptions, a mixture of positive, negative and neutral.

Four of the five most popular terms for Theresa May are positive: determined and stands up for Britain (both chosen by 30% of the public), up to the job (27%), and competent (25%). Only a sense of arrogance, selected by 18%, spoils the positive picture for the current Prime Minister.

In contrast, four of the five most common descriptions of Jeremy Corbyn are critical. A third see him as out of his depth, a quarter see him as both weak and out of touch, and 16% as indecisive. Despite these weaknesses, about a fifth (18%) acknowledge him as being a politician of principle.

Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron shares some of Jeremy Corbyn’s negatives: seen as out of his depth, weak and out of touch. Additionally, 15% suggest he is indecisive and 13% weird (a description used in 2015 for then Labour leader Ed Miliband). Some of the descriptions politicians would most like to hear used to describe them like competent, shares my values, and on my side, are those least likely to be used to describe Tim Farron.

Finally, we asked about Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Across the UK as a whole, perceptions of the SNP’s party leader are mixed; arrogant and smug, but determined too. This is a UK wide poll, so we interviewed a relatively small number of voters in Scotland – around 200 (the number of interviews per nation or region reflects the population size of the UK) – and so Scottish-only results should be seen as indicative rather than definitive. Nonetheless, in Scotland there is evidence that Nicola Sturgeon’s strongest association is with being determined, and Scottish voters viewing her as both not listening yet up to the job.


Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,043 GB adults aged 18+ between 8 and 9 May 2017. Data were weighted in order to be demographically representative of adults in Great Britain. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Further information at www.populus.co.uk.

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