Further to the debate yesterday about Heathrow expansion, there’s some interesting polling that has been done by Populus (commissioned by Heathrow Airport) in the seats that would be affected.

The findings suggest the assumption in Westminster that “West London is opposed to expansion” is an incomplete picture.

It’s a relatively large poll of 7,000 people across the constituencies of Brentford and Isleworth, Ealing Central and Acton, Feltham and Heston, Richmond Park, Spelthorne and Windsor, plus the London Borough of Hillingdon. As such it should be rather more accurate than national polls, which typically question about 1,000 people across the whole country.

The headline findings are as follows:

  • 48 per cent support a third runway at Heathrow, with 36 per cent against
  • 24 per cent would be more likely to vote for their MP if he or she supports expansion, while 15 per cent would be less likely to do so

Looking at the breakdown in each area, only in Richmond Park do the opponents of a third runway outnumber the supporters. That helps to explain why the Richmond MP, Zac Goldsmith, is the most outspoken opponent of the idea (as well as his personal green convictions).

Of course, we should always bear in mind who commissioned a poll when reporting it, but Populus are a respectable outfit with a good track record of independent work.

As I argued yesterday, there are strategic political and economic reasons why I think we ought to be in favour of a third runway, but if those don’t appeal then these figures ought at least to give some pause to those who argue that blocking Heathrow expansion is a desirable tactical step to win votes in these seats.

Of course, it may be that in the relatively pro-Heathrow areas those who are opposed to the idea are more likely to be Tory voters, while those who are in favour might be Labourites who would never lend us their vote. Given that Unite are among those arguing for a new runway while David Cameron toured the area to attract people with a pledge of “no third runway”, that is likely the case to some degree.

But the poll does show the situation is far more nuanced than is commonly assumed. With a large part of the local economy resting on the business Heathrow brings in, there is a support base in the area that is all too rarely recognised or heard.