This article was published in The Herald on Wednesday 29 April and is reproduced here with their permission.

Nicola Sturgeon has the highest net approval rating for a leader of a major political party, a new TNS poll reveals.

The TNS survey of almost 1200 adults in Great Britain looked at the perceptions of the British public towards Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP. In both of the televised leaders’ debates, the feedback from the ‘snapshot’ polls and indeed the wider media commentary was extremely positive – not only within Scotland but throughout the rest of Great Britain. Analysis that TNS has conducted of the coverage on social media confirmed the positive reaction to her performance. Consequently, it is not surprising that when asked how they would rate her performance as leader of the SNP, she received a strong endorsement – 51% gave her a positive rating and 18% a negative rating – a net score of +33. As featured in Table 1, this compares very favourably with the performance of all of the other party leaders – David Cameron and Nigel Farage being the other leaders with positive net scores. Indeed, her high positive rating exceeds anything we have previously recorded in similar questions asked of party leaders.

Interestingly, those aged over 55 years of age were more likely to give Nicola Sturgeon a higher rating than younger people, aged under 25. Not surprisingly, amongst the sample of Scots, her positive rating increased to 70% with 15% giving her a negative rating – a net score +55. In direct contrast, Ed Milliband’s net score amongst Scots was -2 and for David Cameron it was -7.

The evolving narrative which has dominated the General Election campaign from the beginning of April has switched, to a significant extent, from the impact which UKIP might have in certain constituencies to the influential role of the SNP in the event of neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party securing an outright majority. A survey of voting intentions in Scotland conducted by TNS in late March and early April confirmed that the momentum behind the SNP shows no sign of diminishing. Amongst those who were certain to vote and committed to a party, 52% were intending to vote SNP, up 6 points from our previous poll in February and 24% would vote Labour, 6 points down from the previous poll.

This latest survey by TNS, conducted between 16-20 April, lends further insight on British public opinions if faced with a scenario where a significant number of SNP Members of Parliament at Westminster could well have a major influence on who forms the Government and the policies that could be pursued.

Just over half (56%) believed that the outcome of the vote in Scotland would have an impact on their own life with 28% stating that it would have a big impact. Both of these figures are similar to those we recorded when we asked the same question in March. However, in that previous survey, 30% said that the vote in Scotland would have no impact at all on their lives; this figure has now decreased to 21% suggesting that the electorate are increasingly recognising the possible implications of the surge in SNP support.

Another key theme we revisited was whether the SNP having a greater influence in the next UK government would be seen as being positive or negative for the UK as a whole. 44% believed that such an outcome would have a negative impact and 27% that it would be positive – the latter figure being a 5 points increase from the previous survey. This suggests that the efforts from Nicola Sturgeon to appeal to the wider British public may well have been rewarded. There was some variation within the population with older people, aged 55 years and over and those in the professional and managerial socio-economic groups more likely to regard this influence from the SNP as having a negative impact. Not surprisingly, those likely to vote Conservative or UKIP were particularly likely to share this negative opinion.

With all of the opinion polls and the bookmakers’ odds pointing to a hung parliament, coalition is the word on everybody’s lips. We asked the respondents in our survey what would be the best outcome for the UK in the event of Labour forging some sort of agreement with the SNP to form a government. 16% supported a formal coalition – an increase of 5 points from the March survey and 20% preferred a minority Labour government supported on specific issues by the SNP – a 3 points’ increase from the previous survey. Opinion has remained static for the proportion who believe that neither of these outcomes would be good for Britain (40%). Amongst Scots, 28% preferred a minority Labour government and 21% supported the idea of a formal coalition. Not surprisingly, those intending to vote Labour were more likely to support both of those options – 38% for the minority Labour government and 22% for the formal coalition with the SNP.

What can we conclude from this investigation of public opinion a few weeks before May 7? It is clearly evident that Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during the campaign has resonated well with the electorate, recognising her strengths as leader of the SNP – even amongst those outside Scotland who cannot choose to vote SNP. Her strong performance in the media coverage of the campaign also appears to have counteracted the attempts, especially by the Conservatives, to paint the SNP as ‘a clear and present danger’ to Britain, as expressed by John Major during the campaign. In comparison to the start of the campaign, any slight movement in the perceptions of whether the SNP had greater influence on the next UK government is in the positive rather than negative direction.

Tom Costley, Head of TNS Scotland

Notes to editors
Download the full data tables here.