Mo Metcalf-Fisher has completed an MA in Public Opinion and Polling. He has been a member of Conservative Future since 2006. His research interests include the attitudinal drivers behind support for right-wing and minor parties.
Conservative Future (CF) members make up a significant part of the Conservative Party’s grassroots, yet up to now we have very little knowledge about what our potential future party leaders think. As part of an on-going project designed to better understand young Conservatives and their beliefs, I recently conducted a survey asking a sample of CF members for their opinions on a range of issues. With the help of various MPs and the CF itself, I was able to generate a sample of 220 respondents.Due to a lack of resources, the paper survey relies on a sample of convenience as opposed to randomization. Although ideally I should like to have collected more responses, a sample of 220 observations does at least provide sufficient evidence for some tentative insights given the scarcity of existing studies.
The questions asked covered a variety of issues. Of the 220 responses collected, 163 (75.5 per cent) were male compared to 53 (24.5 per cent) females (4 respondents chose to keep their gender anonymous) . The preponderance of males over females in the sample is to a great extent a reflection of a similar preponderance within the CF as a whole. All attempts were made to reach a greater number of females and future studies should attempt to obtain a greater female sample. The age range covered is 16- 30, with 16-20 years olds making up 34.4 per cent, 21-25 year olds 51.8 per cent and 26- 30 year olds 13.8 per cent. Of those sampled, 45 per cent consider themselves Catholic, Anglican or ‘other’ Christian denomination, compared to 42.2 per cent who consider themselves to be agnostic or atheist. The remaining 12.8 per cent defined as another religion (see full break down on link below):
- With regards to Syria and the intervention proposed by the government , CF members overwhelmingly support Parliament’s decision to vote against such action. 36.2 per cent believe that Britain ‘should stay out of all foreign wars’ compared to 32.6 per cent who think that ‘the facts on Syria are unclear’. Overall, 19.3 per cent of those asked believe Britain should commit to military action.
- On the issue of Gibraltar, CF members are against negotiation with the Spanish over the future of Gibraltar, but do support peaceful attempts to resolve the present dispute via diplomatic means (51.4 per cent). This compares with 43.6 per cent who believe the navy should be sent to ‘assert Britain’s ownership of Gibraltar’. Only 1.8 per cent of those sampled believe the Government should be open to discussion with the Spanish over whether Gibraltar should remain a British territory.
- On foreign aid, CF members do not share the position of David Cameron and the government: 45.4 per cent believe the foreign aid bill should be reduced while 24.8 per cent believe aid should be scrapped altogether. 20.6 per cent believe that Britain should maintain the current level of aid, while 8.7 per cent think that it should be increased.
- On membership of the EU, CF members are overwhelmingly Eurosceptic with 61 per cent favouring withdrawal compared with 38.4 per cent that favour Britain remaining as a member. On the question of how they would vote in an in-out referendum ‘held tomorrow’,72.5 per cent would vote to leave the EU compared to just 21.6 per cent who would vote to stay in. 0.9 per cent would not vote while 5.0 per cent remain undecided.
- On attitudes towards global warming, the sample suggests that CF members are less than convinced : 48 per cent are sceptical of global warming (30.6 per cent believe that there is not yet clear evidence of global warming while 18.1 per cent think is a myth), compared to 43 per cent who think that the issue is important (30.6 per cent think that it is a big issue but think more work needs to be done before we make radical changes while 13 per cent think radical steps need to be taken now).
- CF members are torn on the reintroduction of Capital Punishment for crimes such as murder. Some 47.3 per cent are in favour of reintroduction (23.9 per cent strongly agree, 23.4 per cent agree) compared to 46.8 per cent who are not (12.4 disagree, 34.4 per cent strongly disagree), with those in favour having a very slight ascendancy. At the national level, support for the death penalty has declined from over 70 per cent in the 1970s to 51 per cent in 2010. The assessment of attitudes to capital punishment has tended to be carried out through polling only when the issue is highly salient, meaning that respondents may be reacting to a particularly emotive case then in the news.
- With regards to immigration, the membership of CF is broadly in step with declared government policy. 65 per cent believe that immigration should be reduced but not halted, compared to 9.7 per cent who think it should be ‘halted at once’. 11.1 per cent support the current levels of immigration compared to 10.6 per cent who think ‘further immigration should be encouraged’. It is therefore of little surprise that, when asked about the Home Office’s illegal immigrant van scheme and the allegations of racism, just over 85 per cent of those surveyed disagreed (52.5 per cent strongly disagree, 32.7 per cent disagree) that the scheme was racist compared to just 11.6 per cent who believed that it was racist.
I have also looked at what CF members think about other social issues including sex before marriage, abortion and gay marriage:
- CF members overwhelmingly think that having sex before marriage is acceptable (72 per cent), compared to 24.3 per cent overall, who do not believe in sex before marriage. 10.1 per cent think that sex should be exclusively between those in wedlock while 14.2 per cent intend not to have sex until they themselves are married but ‘do not mind what others do’. 3.7 per cent answered ‘don’t know/ none of the above’
- On abortion, 42.4 per cent define themselves as pro-choice, while 21.5 per cent of those asked believe women should have the right to choose despite personally being against abortion. 35.6 per cent are pro-life (23.3 per cent against abortion in most cases, 12.3 per cent against in all cases)
- On gay marriage, 60 per cent support the decision to legalise gay marriage compared to 30 per cent who are against and 7 per cent who have no opinion. The remaining 2.31 responded with don’t know/ none of the above.
The final set of questions asked respondents which party they believe presents the biggest threat to a Conservative majority in 2015. Just over 55 per cent believe that Labour is the biggest threat, as opposed to 32.7 per cent for UKIP, 6 per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 3.2 per cent for ‘others’.
Last but not least, respondents were asked what they thought of Conservative Future. This question was asked in light of Tim Wigmore’s article which suggested that the CF and other youth divisions were comprised of ‘young weirdoes’. The results may amuse some, with just over 21 per cent believing the CF ‘to be full of weirdoes’, compared to 22.5 per cent who believe that the CF is ‘a great place to meet likeminded people’. 14 per cent of respondents like to distance themselves from the organisation while 13.8 per cent think that the CF is ‘a great place to meet my future wife/ husband’.
Overall, CF members appear to be firmly on the right of the party with regards to most issues, but with a greater plurality of views on social affairs. They are overwhelmingly against Britain’s membership of the EU and most would vote to leave tomorrow if given the chance. They are strongly against British intervention in Syria and support Gibraltar remaining British. Generally speaking, they favour reductions in foreign aid, are sceptical of global warming claims and want immigration reduced. Although torn on the reintroduction of capital punishment, a slight plurality favours the death penalty being used in cases such as murder. On social issues, however, CF members have liberal attitudes towards sex before marriage, abortion and gay marriage. Labour are seen by respondents as presenting the biggest threat to a Conservative majority in 2015 whilst views on Conservative Future as an organisation are decidedly mixed.
For a full breakdown of results (including don’t know/ none of the above figures) and relevant graphs, please see Mo’s blog.