The Labour Party began the year with a 20-point polling lead over the Conservatives, and have commanded a consistent lead ever since December 2021. Labour has not been this far ahead of the Conservatives since 2001.
Voters who have drifted into the “don’t know” column could be decisive.
Labour’s poll lead is mostly due to apathy among 2019 Conservatives. Including those who say they “don’t know” or “would not vote”, 32% of all people currently say they would vote Labour. That is still less than the 35% who voted Tory in 2019.
If the Don’t Knows return to the party they voted for in 2019, the 12-point Labour lead that we found in August would fall to 4-points. This would mean that Labour would win 287 seats and the Conservatives win 286.
The Conservative Government still has time to recover. History shows that Governing parties suffer a mid-term blues and recover some of their support as the election approaches.
This is not 1997, for two reasons. Keir Starmer has a longer, and steeper, hill to climb than his predecessor Tony Blair faced in the late 1990s.
Firstly, in 2024 Labour would need to gain 124 seats to win a majority. But Blair only needed to win 55 extra seats to win in 1997 (although he eventually won 146). Secondly, Conservative incumbents will be defending safer majorities than they were in 1997. In 1992, the average gap between Labour and the winning party was 27%. In 2019 it was 31%. Even repeating Tony Blair’s landslide (the equivalent of gaining 143 seats) would only give Starmer an absolute majority of 40, compared to Blair’s majority of 177.
The SNP will be a thistle in Keir Starmer’s side. There are around 40 seats that used to vote Labour, which are now held by the SNP. If they cannot overcome this nationalist hurdle in Scotland, it puts victory further out of reach.
Labour’s brand is still damaged. The top three traits that voters associate with the party are “weak”, “incompetent”, and “out of touch.” They must convince voters that they are reliable, competent, and on their side.
Emphasise economic fairness and quality public services. We asked voters, “when the Labour party is at its best what does it represent?” The top answers are standing up for working class interests, reducing economic inequality, and supporting the NHS.
The “concerns of ordinary people” ranks fourth. But social justice causes are not seen as central to the party’s brand.
This is also true of 2019 Labour voters. 61% think t he party should focus on supporting the NHS and 55% think it should prioritise standing up for the working class. But only 15% said that, at its best, it is a party that opposes prejudice based on race, gender and sexuality; 26% want a party that champions social justice.
Alongside a renewed focus on economic fairness, the party would do well to ditch social justice and identity politics. Voters either don’t care, which looks out of touch, or they oppose it, which looks like you’re not on their side.
Among Labour’s key target voters (people who consider voting Labour, but currently don’t intend to vote for them) 70% say they oppose positive discrimination by universities and employers. And 66% say they are more concerned about class than race or gender.
There are as many as to 2.1 million votes up for grabs if Labour shift right on social issues. It could see them command their largest coalition since 1951.
Of those voters who are amenable to supporting Labour, but do not currently intend to vote for the party, there are almost twice as many to the cultural right of Labour than the cultural left. 28% have marginally more conservative views on issues like being tough on crime and upholding tradition values and only 16% have marginally more liberal views (the remainder sit more towards the extremes).
In other words, the party could significantly boost their support among the electorate by a small shift right on culture and no compromise on the centre-left economic principles.
Among voters who are economically left-wing and socially conservative, the Conservatives’ 16-point lead in 2019 has been reversed and is now a 6-point lead for Labour. Leaning into this could unlock even more votes.
Most of the seats that Labour lost in 2019 have electorates that are centre-left in the economic values and strongly conservative on social issues. These will form part of the electoral battleground in 2024.
Onward conducted an 10,114 GB representative sample poll with J.L. Partners between 20 August and 2 September 2022. You can find the full cross tabs here.
It quoted for interlocked Age/gender; region; education; past vote; BES Political Attention.
Standard British Social Attitudes question set of social and economic values statements were used.
Our work on the UK’s changing electoral geography led us to identify the importance of the Red Wall and Workington Man ahead of the 2019 election. The Future Politics programme is focused on the changing values and voting patterns of the electorate and the future of the Union.
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