OPINION polls have seldom been kind to Margaret Thatcher, and after 10 years in office they portray a public that is highly critical of her government. A recent Gallup survey published in the Daily Telegraph showed that she is, like a fearsome sea captain, respected but not loved. Almost two-thirds of those polled said they respected her, while only one in four said they liked her.
The polls show that concern with quality of life has risen sharply. A survey by Market and Opinion Research International, conducted for the Independent newspaper and the BBC, concluded that most Britons think the quality of life has sharply deteriorated in the past decade. Over half the respondents agreed that the country ``is heading in the wrong direction and that major changes are needed.''
Specific complaints were that the streets were more dangerous after dark (91 percent), there was more hooliganism (90 percent), more pollution (87 percent), and worse public transport (50 percent). Respondents were more divided on whether there was more freedom (44 percent) or less freedom (32 percent).
The Gallup/Daily Telegraph survey came to similar conclusions on the quality of life, including the perception that under Mrs. Thatcher's rule there was more poverty, crime, selfishness, fear, litter, and greed in Britain.
A review of Gallup polls conducted since the end of World War II, asking whether the public was ``satisfied'' or ``dissatisfied'' with various prime ministers, concluded that after Edward Heath, Thatcher is the least popular leader.
The paradox is, however, that these negative ratings so far have not translated into political weaknesses for Britain's first woman prime minister. For better or worse, many voters remain loyal to the Conservative Party and still look to it to make the changes they believe are needed.