The Conservative Party conference that opens today takes place at a more volatile and unpredictable time than any previous gathering I can remember. My new research, including an 8,000-sample poll, helps to make sense of what is going on by showing what the voters themselves make of the unfolding drama.
The Brexit Saga, part 94
When asked what they would most like to happen with Brexit, nearly eight in ten Conservative Leave voters choose Boris Johnson’s position of leaving the EU on 31 October with or without a deal.
However, only 32 per cent of them think this is the most likely outcome. One in five of them think we will leave after the current deadline, and nearly a quarter believe we will end up remaining in the EU. Overall, 36 per cent back the Prime Minister’s policy, including six in ten 2017 Conservatives, nearly seven in ten Leave voters overall, and more than half of Labour Leavers. A further 15 per cemt said they would prefer to leave with a good deal even if this meant waiting beyond October, and nearly four in ten – including three quarters of remainers and just over half of Tory remainers – said they would like to see the UK remain in the EU.
Those who currently say they are most inclined to vote for the Brexit Party at the next election are both the most likely to want to leave on 31 October (85 per cent) and the least likely to think this will happen (31 per cent).
Most Conservatives, including two thirds of Tory Leavers, think that if no Brexit deal has been reached by parliament’s deadline of 19 October, the Prime Minister should refuse to ask for an extension to Article 50 and continue with his policy of leaving at the end of the month. Six in ten Leave voters say this, as do three quarters of those who currently say they are most likely to vote for the Brexit Party.
However, all groups including Conservative Leavers were more likely to say he should ask for an extension as required by parliament than that he should resign rather than comply with the new law.
No-deal, or Labour and Corbyn?
If the only two options available were leaving the EU with no deal or a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, 48 per cent would choose a no-deal Brexit and 35 per cent a Corbyn-led government.
Two thirds of Conservative Remain voters said they would choose no-deal over Corbyn, as did a majority of Labour Leave voters. Just over six in ten of all Remain voters said they would rather have a Corbyn government than a no-deal Brexit.
Just under four in ten voters think that if Jeremy Corbyn won an election while the UK was still in the EU, his government would hold a second referendum on Brexit. A further 28 per cent say they think he would cancel Brexit altogether, and one voter in five says they don’t know what he would do – including the same proportion of those who currently say they are most likely to vote Labour at the next election. Most Labour-inclined voters think a Corbyn government would hold a second referendum; only 14 per cent he would achieve a better Brexit deal than the one currently on offer.
Dealing with Brexit in the right way topped the list of the most important issues facing the country as a whole, with 62 per cent naming it among the top three. It was followed by the NHS (53 per cent), crime and the economy (both 25 per cent), then immigration and the environment and climate change (both 21 per cent).
However, when we asked what mattered most to people themselves and their families, Brexit fell to third place, behind the cost of living and the NHS. Only four in ten named Brexit among their top three priorities in this respect.
Brexit and the Union
Following my recent polls on Scottish independence and Irish unification, I found just under half of English and Welsh voters saying they would be sorry to see Scotland leave the UK if it chose to do so in a referendum. Remain voters (65 per cent) were more likely to say this than leavers (35 per cent), and Labour voters (58 per cent) more likely than Conservatives (43%).
A slightly smaller proportion of voters in Britain as a whole (40 per cent) said they would be sorry to see Northern Ireland leave the UK, with more than one in three saying they wouldn’t mind either way.
Asked what they would choose to do if it were not possible to leave the EU and keep England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together in the United Kingdom, just over half of voters said they would keep the UK together in its present form.
Nearly one in three said they would rather go ahead with Brexit, and a further 15 per cent said they didn’t know what they would choose. However, the majority of 2017 Tories, six in ten Leave voters and eight in ten of those who currently lean towards the Brexit Party said they would choose leaving the EU over keeping the UK together.
Parties and leaders
Boris Johnson is chosen as the best Prime Minister by 43 per cent, compared to 24 per cent for Jeremy Corbyn; one in three voters say they don’t know. Conservative Remain voters prefer Johnson by 59 per cent to 4 per cent, with 37 per cent undecided.
Labour Leave voters also prefer Johnson, by 43 per cent to 23 per cent, as do nine out of ten of those who voted for the Brexit Party in the 2019 European Parliament election.
Forced to choose between a Conservative government led by Johnson and a Labour government under Prime Minister Corbyn, voters choose Johnson and the Tories by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. Conservative Remain voters do so by 87 per cent to 13 per cent. Labour Leave voters also prefer a Johnson-led Tory government by 52 per cent to 48 per cent; Euro election Brexit Party voters do so by 96 per cent to 4 per cent.
Asked how positively or negatively they feel about the parties and leaders, voters overall rate Johnson slightly ahead of his rivals and the Conservative Party itself. Labour Leave voters rate the Prime Minister higher than both Corbyn and Nigel Farage. He also receives a higher score from his own party’s 2017 voters than both Corbyn and Jo Swinson.
Tory leavers gave the Conservative Party a higher score than Tory remainers, while among Labour voters the Labour Party received a higher score among remainers than leavers.
When we asked which attributes they thought most important in a political party, those currently planning to vote Conservative were most likely to mention being “willing to take tough decisions for the long term” Labour-leaning voters prioritised “representing the whole country, not just some types of people,” while those currently intending to vote Lib Dem chose “having the right priorities for the country.” For those saying they are most likely to vote for the Brexit Party, the most important attribute was that they “will do what they say.”
In practice, few voters thought any of the positive attributes listed applied to each of the parties. The Conservatives scored best on being willing to take tough decisions for the long term (though only 26 per cent thought this was true of them), Labour on wanting to help ordinary people get on in life (27 per cent), the Brexit Party on being clear about what they stand for (27 per cent) and the Lib Dems on being united (18 per cent) and clear about what they stand for (also 18 per cent).
The next general election
Rather than ask how they would vote in an election tomorrow, we asked people how likely they were to vote for each party at the next election on a 100-point scale. 2017 Conservatives were the most likely to say they would stick with their party next time (64/100), though Tory leavers were more likely to say this than Tory remainers.
For 2017 Labour voters, the average declared likelihood of voting Labour again was just 49/100. Conservative Leave voters put their likelihood of voting Tory again (67/100) more than twice as high as their chance of voting for the Brexit Party (33/100). Labour Leave voters considered themselves slightly more likely to switch to the Brexit Party than to the Tories.
Those who voted for the Brexit Party in the 2019 Euro elections put their likelihood of doing so again at a general election slightly below the chance that they would vote Conservative.
Asked if there were any parties they would never vote for at a general election, 43 per cent named the Brexit Party. This included a quarter of 2017 Conservatives, but only 10 per cent of Conservative Leave voters. Labour was second on the list, being ruled out by two thirds of 2017 Tories but only 22 per cent of Lib Dems. just over half of Conservative Remain voters ruled out switching to Labour, and only 11 per cent of them said they would never vote Lib Dem. Though just over half of Labour voters said they would never vote Tory, this was only true of 40 per cent of Labour leavers.
The election mapped
Finally, using factor analysis we created a “map” of the 2019 general election which shows the multiple fronts on which the parties will fight when the election is finally called.
The map shows how different issues, attributes, personalities and opinions interact with one another. The closer the plot points are to each other the more closely related they are. For example, it shows how the Conservatives are competing in the same territory as the Brexit Party, and that the Brexit Party’s vote is closer to the centre of gravity of Tory support than UKIP’s has been in recent years, while in the Euro elections Change UK were competing largely in Lib Dem territory.
It also shows how closely party support is related to various policy priorities and important party attributes, with those closer to the Conservative and Brexit parties prizing willingness to take tough decisions, and those looking for a party that stands for fairness or wanting to help ordinary people get on in life are closer to Labour and Lib Dem terrain.
Full details of the research can be found at LordAshcroftPolls.com.