Prime ministers have been crucial figures in British politics for nearly three centuries and the media now give them more prominence than ever. Polling data on prime ministerial popularity suggest that there has been an increasing tendency for voters to take a negative view of the incumbent prime minister. Moreover, almost every post-war premier has left office less popular than when he or she took over. This trend has not affected opposition leaders, however. Despite the fact that they dominate media coverage of British politics, voters' reactions to prime ministers are less good predictors of party preferences than appraisals of the general competence of the government. This suggests that while valence theorists are right to draw attention to the role of party leaders as a means of providing voters with a ‘short cut’ in decision-making, the importance of leader evaluations should not be exaggerated.