Late last week, while behind the scenes British, French and American forces were lining up to attack Syrian assets, we were testing the mood of the country towards military action.
Any use of British forces overseas is a lot harder now than it was pre-Iraq. Over the years, our work on the public acceptability of British involvement in conflicts has shown that several preconditions need to be in place to help win the Government voter backing.
Historically, public support wavers in the absence of any of the following - a clear strategic goal, good prospect of likely victory, a threat to British interests, and a demonstrable commitment by the Government to support British forces in theatre.
Given the absence of most of these, the action in Syria was a gamble. But the horrific TV images of the gassing of Syrian civilians were almost certainly enough to give Theresa May sufficient support to avoid long term problems, if not inside Parliament then at least as far as voters are concerned.
The Government should join the US and France in taking military action against President Assad in Syria Agree 29% Disagree 36% Don’t know 35%
While the headline figure was that fewer than one in three support the military action, the more significant number is that only 36% oppose it. The remaining 35% who answered ‘don’t know’’ were doubtless nervous at the possible Russian response and the prospect of collateral injuries among Syria’s already beleaguered population.
As ever, men were more supportive than women of a military response (36% compared to 23%) and, although predictable that Tory voters should support it more than Labour, around one in four (27%) Corbyn voters also backed action.
More significantly for the longer term is what voters think of Russia. Fully six in 10 (61%), including 56% of Labour voters, think the Russian Government ‘has become a force for evil in the world’.
Also important is that half of all voters believe that the Salisbury attack was the work of President Putin and only 14% believe it was not (the remainder don’t know). While Jeremy Corbyn says he wants ‘incontrovertible proof’ before blaming Russia, only 17% of his voters think Putin is innocent.
Some governments devote significant resource to building an international brand for their nation, giving assurance to investors and tourists alike of their benign intent. The Russian Government instead appears to be generating propaganda to cover up aggression against opponents overseas – propaganda which few, in Britain at least, believe. If unchecked, President Putin risks steering his country into a reputational abyss from which it could take years to recover.
This weekend also saw our return to polling voting intention after an absence of 10 months, for the Sunday Express. Yesterday’s poll gave the Conservatives 40%, Labour 41% and the Lib Dems 7%. Following every Election there is a period when voting intention is so academic that there is little appetite to measure it. But, with Brexit less than a year away, and politics hotting up again, we feel it the right time to resume our monthly time-series.
Finally, ComRes is delighted to have been named as the most accurate pollster of the past decade in an analysis by statistical consultant Nigel Marriott. Our performance in 2017 was not as good as we would have liked, nor as it was in 2015, so we have reverted to the chart-topping methodology which delivered what was - by some distance - the most accurate poll result three years ago.
Watch this space over the coming months…