Westminster’s nadir: Belief in party leaders falls to historic low

The combined satisfaction ratings of the three party leaders are lower than at any equivalent point before a general election, a devastating new poll has found.

The Ipsos Mori survey, conducted ahead of a King's College London conference on political leadership, found that one in four people had given up on democracy altogether and wanted to replace elected politicians with professional managers.

The poll paints a gloomy picture of trust in British politics, with voters increasingly alienated from the debate and individuals making up day-to-day Westminster news stories.

Just 18% of people think the quality of political leadership today is better than in the past.

The average combined net satisfaction score of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in December 2013 (17 months before a May 2015 general election) was -22, compared to, for example, -1 in December 2008 (17 months before the May 2010 election), +1 in December 2003, -3 in January 2000 and +1 in December 1995.

While individual leaders have had lower scores in the past, this is the lowest across all three combined.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a corresponding drop in the number of people who think the leader of a party is the most important factor in attracting them to a party.

Asked to rank the factors that would draw them to supporting one party over another respondents gave policies a mean score of 4.1 out of ten, the party as a whole 3.3 out of ten and leaders 2.6 out of ten.

That shows a marked decline in leader importance since 2008 and 2010, when leaders and parties were given equal prominence, and suggests predictions about the increasingly presidential nature of British politics will prove wide of the mark.

It could also spell trouble for the Tories, who plan to turn 2015 into a presidential election in order to capitalise on Cameron's popularity over Clegg and Miliband.

The relative popularity of the prime minister continued to be reflected in the Ipsos Mori findings.

Cameron had a clear lead on three of the top five leader characteristics: being capable, having sound judgement and being good in a crisis.

But on the number one issue of understanding the problems facing Britain, he and Ed Miliband are neck and neck. They are also tied on being seen as trustworthy.

Cameron's biggest weakness is as the leader seen as most out of touch with ordinary people – also in the top five attributes.

He also has a lead over Ed Miliband on the softer, less important traits of being likeable and having a lot of personality.