Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Pondering the popularity stakes

By Phil Parry
BBC Wales political unit

Rhodri Morgan
A final bounce in the polls?

It's not often political leaders score an approval rating like this one.

Some 65% say Rhodri Morgan is doing a good job as First Minister, with 21% saying a bad job, and 14 % who didn't know.

But a word of warning - far more people than that approved of George Bush's work at one point, and look what happened to him.

OK so it is a slightly mischievous comparison. It's not likely that Rhodri Morgan will be nervously eyeing the dying days of the last presidency when Mr Bush was rated as being one of the most unpopular presidents since polling began.

But how to explain Rhodri Morgan's rating?

Could it be his well-known ability to find an unusual turn of phrase to unsettle political opponents, or interviewers.

"Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?" has gone down in history as one of the most eccentric ways to answer yes to an important political question (it was in 1998 to Jeremy Paxman when asked if he wanted to lead the Labour party in the assembly.)

Then there are the political put-downs - he recently told an opposition leader in First Minister's questions he did not have the answer imprinted on the back of his eyeballs.

Perhaps it is his unusual range of knowledge - in a full session of the assembly this February he waxed lyrical about the joys of allotments.

Or maybe it is simple recognition factor.

Raymond Probert
I have seen him before but I cannot remember his name
Raymond Probert, 75, New Broughton, Wrexham

Exactly two years ago 43% were able to name Rhodri Morgan as First Minister - although this was contradicted a little with a straw poll we took today on the streets of Wrexham, when few recognised his photograph.

That 43% figure in 2007 still compared well with 7% who could name Ieuan Wyn Jones as Plaid Cymru leader, and 6% able to name Nick Bourne as leader of the Welsh conservatives or Mike German as the then leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

For other leaders - at very different levels of power and influence it is true - approval ratings make for interesting reading, according to polling group Mori.

In January 59% were dissatisfied with the way Gordon Brown was doing his job, with just 33% satisfied.

But then he is at the eye of a financial storm the like of which has never been seen before - and surely first in line among voters to be held accountable for how UK plc comes through it.

So what is the message from that? Not to be too close to the action when you are dealing with a financial crisis?

All right organising economic summits and putting together policies to retrain workers facing redundancy is valuable stuff - but bailing out a failing banking system with billions of pounds of tax payers money is in a different league.

And when Margaret Thatcher faced huge economic problems in 1980 and 1981, her satisfaction rating among voters came down to around 30%

Camper van

That leads on to another huge area of policy Rhodri Morgan - thankfully from his point of view - does not have to deal with and that is war.

Months after Tony Blair's landslide election victory in 1997 his approval ratings as prime minister were up there to compare with the Welsh first minister, at about 67%.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 those ratings dropped massively and through 2004 they were hovering around 30%.

Yet, famously, the Falklands war had an opposite effect on Margaret Thatcher's ratings, and they jumped to more than 50%.

Perhaps it's Rhodri Morgan's political longevity that explains his approval rating.

Rhodri Morgan will be 70 in September and has said he will stand down as first minister around then, when he will have been a major figure on the Welsh political scene for more than 20 years.

Or perhaps it is comments like his description of when he was at his happiest.

Not for him meeting "political challenges" - it was going on camper van holidays with his wife and kids.

ICM Research conducted a total of 1,000 interviews with adults in Wales aged 18+ by telephone on 20-24th February 2009.

Interviews were conducted across Wales and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults in Wales.

ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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