Hidden in the latest YouGov poll on public reactions to the Coronavirus is something quite remarkable. It’s that rare and most exotic of things in opinion polling: a big thumbs up for the government’s handling of a crisis.
54% of voters think the government is handling the situation well, compared to only 26% who think they are handling it badly. This includes even the most critical groups: Remainers (52-30), Labour voters (48-37), 18-24 year olds (51-35) and Scots (53-20).
Generally speaking, if you ask people outright if the government is doing well or badly at pretty much anything, most people say badly. And it’s not simply a general honeymoon effect: in YouGov’s latest trackers for February more people still disapprove than approve of the government’s record to date (42-36), as well as their handling of immigration (57-24), crime (65-22), education (47-33) and much else. But handling of the coronavirus? As near to top marks as a government could hope for.
Now for the caveats.
It’s early days; at the moment all we know is that something bad might happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. If things get worse, the normal instinct to blame government could return with a vengeance. And perhaps people are willing the situation to be under control, to make themselves feel better about it.
It’s also, arguably, the lack of Boris rather than his leadership that explains the atmosphere of competence. His involvement has been limited to a few videos in hospitals and reminders to wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday. Much of the communication duty has been handed down to technocratic health secretary Matt Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty.
But even this is, let’s face it, a credit to the Government, which has so far managed just the right balance of gravity and lack of panic about the threat. Who would have predicted that a Boris Johnson government would be earning praise across the board for its seriousness and competence in a crisis?