A year into Keir Starmer’s tenure as Leader of the Labour Party, Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted an extensive poll of 2019 Labour voters to understand their view of Starmer’s leadership, of his attempts to distance Labour from the Corbyn years, and the opposition he has posed to the Government throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In this article we present the results of our research into Labour voters, drawing also from our recent polling of 2019 Conservative voters.
Our research finds that around half (48%) of 2019 Labour voters approve of Keir Starmer’s overall job performance since becoming Leader of the Labour Party. Although only 12% say they outright disapprove, a very significant 36% say they neither approve nor disapprove. Keir Starmer’s 48% job approval among 2019 Labour voters contrasts with Boris Johnson’s 70% job approval among 2019 Conservative voters.
Between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, 27% of those who voted Labour in 2019 say Boris Johnson would be the better Prime Minister for the United Kingdom at this moment. Meanwhile, half (49%) of 2019 Labour voters say Keir Starmer would be a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson at the present moment.
Can Starmer Win A General Election?
A bit more than half of 2019 Labour voters (56%) find Labour under Keir Starmer capable of winning the next General Election in 2024. Whereas only 24% of Labour voters said they do not think Labour under Starmer can win a General Election, a further 21% said they don’t know.
On the other hand, only 22% of 2019 Conservative voters think Starmer’s Labour Party is capable of winning a General Election. Meanwhile, 62% answered “no” and 17% said they don’t know.
Mirroring the 22% of Conservative voters who think Labour under Starmer could win a General Election, our research finds that 22% of 2019 Conservative voters say they can see themselves voting for Labour under Starmer. Although a limited proportion, these figures should be encouraging for Starmer, as they highlight a potential opportunity for him to build a larger electoral coalition for Labour.
Has Starmer Handled the Coronavirus Crisis Well?
Keir Starmer became Labour Leader on 20 April 2020, roughly a month after the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in the United Kingdom. As a result, the coronavirus pandemic has been the main issue in British politics since he took the helm of Labour, allowing for little ground to discuss policy in other areas. However, Labour voters appear to feel positively about how Starmer has managed the issue, as nearly two thirds of Labour voters (61%) agree with a statement suggesting that the Labour Party has provided an effective opposition to the Government during the coronavirus pandemic. Only 12% disagree.
On the other hand, our research also finds that 52% of Labour voters agreeing with a statement suggesting that Labour should cooperate less with the Government and oppose more when it comes to the Government’s coronavirus pandemic response. Meanwhile, 17% of Labour voters disagree that Labour should cooperate less with the Government, and 28% neither agree nor disagree.
If Labour voters want more opposition against the Government with respect to coronavirus measures, it is unclear which direction they would prefer the Party to challenge the Government. 33% of those who voted Labour in 2019 think the Government has been too cautious, while 39% think the Government has been too impatient, when it comes to relaxing the current coronavirus restrictions.
47% say they find the current level of restrictions ‘about right,’ but a significant 32% say they find the current level ‘too relaxed’ while a smaller, but no less significant, 20% say they find it ‘too restrictive.’
When it comes to challenging the Government with a view towards defending personal freedoms, half of our sample were favourable to the idea, but again, a significant third does not appear to prefer such an approach.
As such, Keir Starmer’s decisions to abstain from votes on coronavirus restrictions, neither invoking opposition nor support, may have been the least damaging course of action in terms of maintaining support from Labour voters.
Who does Labour represent?
Across Great Britain, 47% of Labour voters say that Labour is the ‘party of the North,’ compared to 31% who disagree. Comfortingly for Labour, respondents in the North overwhelmingly agree with this notion: 76% of Labour voters in the North West and North East and 59% of Labour voters in Yorkshire and the Humber agree that Labour is the ‘party of the North.’ Meanwhile, Labour voters in London were evenly split on this notion (38% each). In the South East, only 32% of 2019 Labour voters agreed that Labour is the ‘party of the North,’ compared to 40% who disagreed.
When asked whether they associate Labour more with London or with the North, 45% of Labour voters say the associate Labour more with the North, whereas 31% primarily associate the Party with London. Older respondents were significantly more likely to primarily associate Labour with the North than with London, whereas for the youngest respondents (those aged 18 to 24) it is a nearly even split. On a regional level, those in London primarily associate Labour with London, whereas those in the North primarily associate Labour with the North.
One of Keir Starmer’s initiatives since becoming Labour Leader has been to emphasise the Party’s commitment to patriotism in an attempt to move away from some of the perceptions that developed during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. Overall, our research finds that 51% of Labour voters identify as patriotic, whereas 19% expressly do not. Labour voters over the age of 65 were far more likely to consider themselves patriotic (69%) than those aged 18 to 24 (39%).
Thinking about the party they voted for in December 2019, our research finds that 56% of Labour voters think that the Labour Party is patriotic, compared to 9% who disagree and 31% who neither agree nor disagree. Thus, there appears to be a slim majority of Labour voters who consider themselves patriotic and who think Labour is patriotic, but they operate alongside a large minority of Labour voters who are indifferent to these questions, and a smaller minority who outright say they themselves are not patriotic and neither is the party.
Overall, only 15% of Labour voters say it is “very important” for them that the Labour Party expresses patriotism. Meanwhile, 27% think it is “moderately important” and a plurality of 30% say it is “somewhat important”. Collectively, at least 72% of Labour voters said it is at least “somewhat” important to them that the Labour Party expresses patriotism. The share of 2019 Labour voters for whom this is not important stands at only 20%.
What Do Labour Voters Currently Think About Corbyn?
Thinking about Keir Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, our research finds that Labour’s 2019 voters are fairly split over who would be the better leader for Labour at the present moment: 45% say Keir Starmer, but 38% say Jeremy Corbyn. For this question, the age differential was noteworthy: whereas 64% to 65% of Labour voters aged 55 or older think Starmer is the better leader for the present moment, this view is only shared by 29% of Labour voters aged 18 to 24. On the other hand, a majority of Labour voters aged 18 to 24 (56%) think Jeremy Corbyn would be a better Labour Leader for the present moment, compared to only 19% to 25% of Labour voters aged 55 or older.
On the question of whether Keir Starmer was right to stop Jeremy Corbyn from being re-admitted as a Labour MP, our polling finds that 48% of Labour voters agree and 23% disagree that Starmer was right in not allowing Corbyn be re-admitted as a Labour MP. Unlike previous questions, there were no major differences in responses to this question on the basis of age group.
What Does Starmer Stand For?
Across the full sample of Labour voters, 36% say they do not know where Keir Starmer stands on the political spectrum in relation to their own views. Meanwhile, 17% think Starmer is more left wing than they are, whereas 22% think he is less left wing than themselves. A further 26% say Starmer is just as left wing as themselves. These figures point not only to the ideological diversity that exists within the Labour Party, but also to the uncertainty even among Labour voters about Starmer’s ideology and views: does he share most of Jeremy Corbyn’s views, having served in his Shadow Cabinet and having been a vocal critic of Brexit after the referendum, or is he politically closer to Tony Blair? Labour voters do not seem to know the answer to this question yet—and this lack of a label (particularly a negative label) could potentially be playing to Starmer’s advantage, as it means he avoids alienating any particular blocks within the party early in his tenure as Leader.
Interestingly, despite older Labour voters being far more likely to think that Keir Starmer is a better Labour Leader for the present moment than Jeremy Corbyn, our research also finds that older Labour voters are more likely than younger Labour voters to say Starmer is “less left wing than I am.” Whereas 27% of Labour voters aged 55 or older say Starmer is less left wing than they are, this view is only held by 18% of Labour voters aged 18 to 24. On the other hand, 22% of those aged 18 to 24 think Starmer is more left wing than they are, compared to only 12% to 14% of those aged 55 or older.
Despite the degree of uncertainty about what exactly are the ideas and policies that Labour under Starmer would implement, there is nonetheless a robust amount of confidence among Labour voters that the Party has the ideas and policies that the country needs: overall, 71% of 2019 Labour voters agree and 6% disagree that Labour has the ideas and policies that the UK needs, with a further 20% neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
Almost a year into his leadership of Labour, Keir Starmer does not appear to have caused a strong impression on the Party’s voters yet—for better or worse. With the new Budget unveiled and the UK starting to move past the coronavirus crisis, Starmer may soon be under increased pressure to define what the Labour Party stands for under his leadership.