The majority of replies on which this result is based came in on July 3 – the day on which at least some ballot papers were dispatched to the best part, we are told, of about 160,000 Conservative Party members. So a small minority of these survey responses will have been returned at the same time as real votes. CCHQ expects a high turnout.
By the time next week’s Next Tory Leader survey replies are sent back, it is therefore reasonable to expect a large slice of members to have voted. Some CCHQ sources suggest that a higher percentage than might be expected will delay – as members wait to see the two candidates perform at local hustings, or for Andrew Neil’s interviews with both men, due to be broadcast a week today.
One party source tells ConservativeHome that some party members may be late to vote “because the private school holiday season has already begun, and some families are away from home at the moment”.
But however that may be, our survey result provides a snapshot of Party opinion as members go to the polls. And it shows no evidence of a surge for Jeremy Hunt. Two hundred more people have replied than did last week. But the ratings of the two candidates have scarcely moved. Johnson is up a point; Hunt down a point. This is margin-of-error stuff.
On the one hand, one might take Amber Rudd’s part, proclaim that “certain types of people are supporters of ConservativeHome”, and dismiss the survey entirely. Or at least believe that there are some shy Hunt voters that it isn’t picking up.
On the other, it’s worth mulling the size of the electorate. 160,000 is a significant increase on the 120,000 of some eighteen months ago.
CCHQ says that many of these new voters are old members, a higher proportion of which are renewing than previously, because of the central administration of membership.
But some at least will have joined between the autumn of 2018 and early spring this year because they believed correctly that a leadership election would come sooner rather than later. And most of these will vote for the more pro-Brexit candidate as they see it. That ought to help Johnson.
All in all, our instinct is to allocate most of the “others” to Hunt, and move two or three points from Johnson’s column to his…
…but then shift at least one of them back again, to take account of the growth in the electorate. That would offer a snapshot of roughly 66 per cent Johnson, 33 per cent Hunt. We’ve spoken to perhaps 15 Conservative MPs during the last few days and that is more or less what most of them are picking up in their constituencies.
But such a conclusion would be a holding of our collective finger to the wind. Perhaps we should stick to the survey total as a reliable snapshot at a very important time. O ye of little faith.