Seldom have a survey’s results shown more vividly that the answer to a question depends on how it is put.
Ask what proportion of the panel believe that Boris Johnson is dealing with the Coronavirus well, and one finds that the answer is 87 per cent. Last month, it was 92 per cent.
Ask what percentage think that the Government as a whole is dealing with it well, and one gets 83 per cent. Last month, that figure was 92 per cent.
And ask what proportion support the Chancellor’s response, and the answer is that 91 per cent of respondents do so – just as last month.
These are stupendously high ratings, with only a very slight slippage in the first two answers.
We also posed a new question on the same theme, asking panel members whether or not they back what they understand of the Goverment’s future plans with regard to the lockdown.
Seventy-one per cent do, 14 per cent don’t and 15 per cent, a relatively high figure, don’t know – presumably because they’re waiting for those plans to be spelt out this week.
That seventy-one per cent figure is a bit short of the 80 and 90 per cent returns about, but it still shows emphatic support for the Prime Minister and the Government.
Put the question another way, however, with more specifics, and a different picture begins to emerge.
There are essentially three broad strategic routes that Johnson and his Ministers can follow in plotting the future of the lockdown.
First, they could plan to leave it roughly as it is indefinitely, operating on very strict terms – rather like Israel’s original clampdown (which is now being relaxed).
Second, they could seek to operate a looser shutdown – a less intense suppression strategy that stresses voluntary social distancing, and treats herd immunity as a strategic aim, along the lines of Sweden.
Third, they could do what it appears that they now intend to do – namely, to get Coronavirus cases and deaths down to a lower level, and then operate a South Korean-style track-and-trace scheme.
Put it all that way, and only 13 per cent, fewer than one in seven, back the present dispensation continuing.
Just over half back what is now understood to be the Government’s approach. That’s a very respectable total. But nothing like the landslide majorities we report earlier.
And almost a third support a Swedish-style option – nothing like a majority, but a very considerable minority of respondents.
The most plausible explanation of the differences is that the crisis is provoking a Union Jack effect: in other words, a rallying round our politicians at this exceptional time.
It will be especially marked among the Government’s supporters, and Conservative Party members are among the most dedicated of these. We’d expect Tory voters as a whole to respond along similar lines.
Scratch beneath the surface, however, and there is very little support indeed for continuing the present approach indefinitely, and differences of view about future strategy.
The Prime Minister and his team have work to do in consolidating and developing their position when they set it out in more detail later this week.