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The Tories' new voters are not impressed – the government is warned.

"Recent government gaffs and sleaze has clearly dented their credibility amongst the very voters the Tories need to keep to win the next election."

The 2019 election witnessed the Conservative Party being able to win over many new voters, with such voters reporting that they felt Johnson and his party provided better leadership than Corbyn’s Labour. Yet, as figure one shows the lead over Labour’s leader Boris Johnson had in 2019 has been eroded as the parliament has progressed. In 2020, delays in tackling Covid19 lead to longer lockdowns than many anticipated, consequently leading to a decline in the electorate’s belief that the Conservative Party provided the best leader for the country. Yet, the government was able to turn their fortunes around through the rollout of a successful vaccine programme. However, after a couple of months of scandals, made worse through the whiff of corruption, and several gaffs, alongside rising inflation Boris Johnson, is no longer seen as the best politician for the job of Prime Minister.

This blog post outlines that these trends are particularly worrying for the Conservative Party as their decline in ratings has partly come from the very group of voters who gave them a majority in the 2019 election. Further, the problem that now faces the Conservative Party is that there is no immediate policy solution to reverse these negative trends, unlike last year with the vaccine rollout that could end lockdowns. Vitally, this all means that as the voters the Tories need to keep are not impressed with the PM’s performance, which is likely linked to wider governmental performance, the Conservative Party is at risk of losing key voters, and with this losing the next election.

Figure 1 - Best candidate for PM, Average trends since April 2020. Source: UK Polls.

Leave voters turn cold on Johnson:

In 2019, the Conservative Party clearly gained leave voters, particularly in the Red Wall constituencies they won, some of which had not been won post-1945 by the Tories. The British Election Study discovered that in 2019 leave voters who switched from Labour to the Conservatives viewed Boris Johnson as a much more capable leader than Jeremy Corbyn, and with this favourability, the Conservatives found it easier to gain the leave voters they needed for their majority. Yet, as figure two shows Leave voters have awarded Johnson a much lower score, meaning much fewer voters from this political grouping believe Boris Johnson is the best politician to fulfil the role of PM.

Further, Remain voters have also come to see PM Johnson as less able to do the job as parliament has progressed. As the decline in Boris Johnson’s perceived ability to perform in his role has been particularly steep amongst leave voters Keir Starmer has been able to overtake Johnson as the politician who is most trusted to perform in the role of PM, especially as Starmer has received increased ratings from both Leave and Remain voters in the last month. However, before concluding that Starmer is a PM in waiting it should be noted that his ratings amongst Leave and Remain voters were better in the summer of 2020 than they are now. Therefore, the withdrawal of the PM’s support may have not directly translated into support for Keir Starmer’s leadership, instead, these voters may now view no main party leader as able to carry out the role of leading the government.

Fig 2 - Best leader for PM - Remain Vs Leave, Source: YouGov, Survation, RedFeild & DelatPoll

Changing favourability:

Boris Johnson:

One particular problem Johnson has in being able to turn around the Conservative Party’s declining favourability is that he himself has declining ratings. Figure three shows that on average Boris Johnson has gone from positive and strong ratings to negative and much weaker ratings. Indeed, some polling ratings have put Johnson on some of the worst overall ratings for a Conservative leader since favourability polling began. Worryingly for the Conservative Party, Johnson’s decreased favourability has been steepest amongst voters who backed the Tories in 2019. Moreover, further research found that older, less qualified, working-class voters caused the largest decreases in Johnson’s favourability. Again, this all indicates that some of the voters who came over to the Tories in 2019 are not impressed with the performance of the party they placed new trust in.

Figure 3 - PM Johnson’s net favourability score by voters’ 2019 vote. Source: YouGov, Redfield & Survation

Keir Starmer:

Whilst Johnson’s perceived declining performance is good news for Labour, this may not necessarily translate into strong support for Labour’s leadership and a Labour government. Figure four shows that whilst Starmer’s ratings have improved in the last few months and are now better than Johnson’s, his ratings are still negative. The good news for Labour is that their leader is looked upon more favourably by a wide range of voting groups. Figure four demonstrates that Starmer has increased his ratings amongst both higher and lower qualified voting groups. Moreover, further research showed that Starmer has also gained amongst older and younger groups, whilst also being better perceived amongst varying class groupings. Further, Starmer has also become to be perceived slightly more favourably amongst Leave voters. This all indicates that Starmer is being viewed more favourably amongst the voters he needs to win over, but it is important to note that these ratings are still not that high. Further, it is also worth noting that despite the uptick in favourability for Starmer amongst these voters Starmer’s ratings are still lower than they were a year ago, indicating that although progress has been made for Labour they are still not yet a government in waiting. Further, it also shows that the decline in the Prime Minister’s ratings have not translated into new support for Labour, meaning that undecided former Tory voters are currently not that impressed with either of the two main options on offer, indicating that key voters are still waiting to see which leader they perceive to be most competent until committing their support.

Fig 4 - Starmer's net Favourability score by qualification group. Source: YouGov & Survation

Competence:

In terms of how competent the leaders are perceived to be, poll trends clearly show that Boris Johnson’s credibility has suffered in recent weeks. Figure five shows that in particular, Johnson has become to be seen as less competent amongst working-class voters, the very voters that he needs to keep in Red Wall constituencies. Moreover, further research showed that Boris Johnson was perceived to be less competent by older voters as well as lower qualified voters. Worryingly for the Conservatives, even amongst Leave voters, Johnson was perceived to have become more incompetent in the latter half of 2021. Therefore, it can again be stated that the very voters Johnson’s Conservative Party needs to keep in order to win the next election have lost faith in the government’s ability to competently handle day to day issues the government will face.


However, before declaring this will pave the way to a Labour government it should also be noted that figure five demonstrates these voters have increasingly felt Starmer to have his own competency failings. Therefore, it can be said that declining faith in the government’s abilities has not directly translated into renewed faith for Labour, again meaning the voters do not necessarily see Starmer as a PM in waiting and Labour as a government in waiting. Instead, it can again be stated that groups most likely to comprise former wavering Conservative voters are still waiting to assess which leader and party offers the most competence for a difficult post-pandemic time.

Figure 5 - Voters perceiving the party leaders and incompetent (C2DE voters). Source: YouGov, Redfield polls

Finally, the biggest threat for the Conservative Party is it may not be able to win back its former voters that now find themselves unimpressed by the party’s leadership and performance in government. Figure six shows that these voters may no longer trust the leader who will deliver the government’s messages, thus presenting a real challenge to winning back these voters. Figure six shows that key voters the government need to keep, older voters, form a large part of this increased distrust of the government. Again, further analysis showed that other voters the Tories need to keep have also fuelled this rise in distrust, such as lower qualified working-class leave voting groups. Again, this presents the possibility these voters have lost faith in the government’s competence and may not choose to back the government at the next election. Once more, this finding does not mean that Labour will find itself in government by default, as these voters still have reservations about Labour and their leader. These voters also have increasingly begun to see Starmer as untrustworthy, perhaps again indicating these voters are waiting to see what their best option is for the next election before committing their support.

Voters perceiving the party leaders as untrustworthy (Older voters). Source: YouGov, Survation, RedFeild, Delta Poll.

Conclusion:

Recent government gaffs and sleaze has clearly dented their credibility amongst the electorate, and more notably amongst the very voters the Tories need to keep to win the next election. These voters have lost trust in Johnson’s standing as PM, and in some cases have come to prefer Starmer as a potential PM. Further, Boris Johnson’s overall favourability has also dropped below Starmer’s because of this loss of confidence. Moreover, this loss in confidence has caused Johnson to be seen as less competent than he once was, and with there being no immediate indication that these voters trust Boris and the government’s messages this casts doubt in the government’s ability to win these voters back. Further, even worse news for the Tories is that there is no immediate solution for the party as rising Omicron numbers and inflation will pose problems for governments and economies around the world, of which will likely antagonise the voters. The good news for the government is that these voters have not clearly placed their faith in Labour yet, meaning that key voters remain on stand-by, waiting to see which party and their respective leader exudes more competence before deciding which party to back in the next general election. Therefore, whilst recent changes have put the government behind Labour, both parties are still in contention for the next election as things stand.


Written by James Prentice, 02/01/2022, first published 09/01/2022.


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