Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we take an in-depth look at Boris Johnson’s decision to return to Brexit as a central theme of his Government in the Queen’s Speech this week.

This week, our research also covered:

  • The decline in trust in the Conservatives on the economy
  • Keir Starmer declaring he would resign if fined by Durham Police
  • Elon Musk reversing Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump

If you would like to find out more about how Redfield & Wilton Strategies can help your organisation succeed through polling and strategic advice, click here.

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention
(8 May):

Labour 39% (-2)
Conservative 33% (–)
Liberal Democrat 12% (–)
Green 7% (+2)
Scottish National Party 5% (+1)
Reform UK 2% (-1)
Other 1% (-2)

Changes +/- 1 May

All Net Approval Ratings
(8 May):

Keir Starmer: -2% (–)
Rishi Sunak: -15% (+3)
Boris Johnson: -22% (+2)

Changes +/- 1 May

In last week Thursday’s local elections across the the United Kingdom, the Conservatives lost nearly 500 council seats in what should be seen as a clear defeat. Results were broadly in line with our polling conducted both before and after the elections (albeit with the caveat that we poll General Election voting intention). This week’s Westminster Voting Intention poll has Labour ahead of the Conservatives by 6%—not too far off from their 5% popular vote lead according to the BBC’s national vote share calculation.

In polling conducted after the local elections, we found that, among those who had voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election, 45% of those who voted for another party in the local elections and 29% of those who did not vote in the local elections say their decision was significantly determined by national politics and a dissatisfaction with the UK Government. By comparison, just 19% of those who voted Conservative in the local elections say their vote was significantly determined by national politics and a satisfaction with the UK Government.

In other words, the poor results for the Conservatives in the local elections should certainly be seen as an indication of the deteriorated standing of the national party. Whatever solace the Conservatives may try to take from positive results in certain areas, on the other hand, should be approached with scepticism given that those who did vote Conservative locally are hesitant to cite approval of the national government as a compelling reason for their vote.

Chart of the Week

As we have written before, the economy is the issue that explains why the Conservatives went from positive local election results in 2021, which included winning the ‘Red Wall’ constituency of Hartlepool in a by-election, to last week’s dismal results.

In the space of a year, the Conservatives have gone from leading Labour by more than 15% on being trusted to manage the economy to being behind Labour by 10%. At the same time, the economy has become the most cited vote-deciding issue among British voters, tied with healthcare.

To be sure, ‘the economy’ is an abstract umbrella term. What respondents most likely have in mind when they now think of the state of the economy is inflation and, in particular, the effect of inflation on their lives. On this specific issue, the Government is seen by the public as taking the rising cost of living—what we consider to be the continuation of the coronavirus crisis in other forms—less seriously than it took the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, more than half of the public (54%) this week disagree that the Government is approaching the cost-of-living crisis as urgently as it had approached the pandemic. Just a quarter (26%) agree. On the most important issue of the day, the Government is seen as missing in action. As a result, we see the downward trend illustrated in the above chart.

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Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Boris Johnson Returns to Brexit

In the Queen’s Speech this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to Brexit as the vision behind his government.

Among several proposed Brexit-related bills announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister promised in particular to pass a ‘Brexit Freedoms’ Bill that would reportedly make it easier to amend or altogether remove “retained EU laws,” of which more than a thousand. Though it is unclear what laws exactly will be changed, there is a clear intent to return to what was previously a central theme of Boris Johnson’s political career.

Such a return may appear ill-advised, a desperate move amidst low approval ratings. After all, Boris Johnson campaigned in 2019 ‘to get Brexit done.’ The strength of this appeal had less to do with the merits of Brexit itself or how exactly it was being ‘done’ than to do with, in contrast to the proposed solutions to the Brexit debate by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, simply allowing the country to move forward from the issue. The 2016 referendum vote would be respected with Boris Johnson’s ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal, and the country would be able to move on. And so, voters gave Johnson a landslide majority and moved on.

As a result, as Anand Menon and Alan Wager from a UK in a Changing Europe have argued in these pages, “re-joining the EU is simply not a plausible political threat” to now rally Conservative and former Leave voters against. 54% of the public in the latest round of our R&WS/UKiCE Brexit Tracker in April deemed it unlikely that the UK will apply to re-join the EU within the next ten years, against 23% who deemed it likely. 

Brexit, now completed, should no longer serve as a wedge issue for voters. In this week’s polling, for instance, just 11% of respondents cite ‘Britain leaving the EU’ as one of three issues that would most determine how they would vote in a General Election, ranking outside the top ten most cited issues. 

Is Boris Johnson racing on an old horse here? Should he not, as his campaign platform essentially promised in 2019, move on?

In fact, our polling finds that, even as Boris Johnson’s Brexit appeal has been diminished, it still remains prominent. 29% of respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 or would vote Conservative today say Brexit is the issue that most attracts them to the Conservative Party today—a figure that, while lower than the figure of 39% who say Brexit was the issue that most attracted them to the Conservative Party in the past, is higher than that for any other issue prompted (the economy, at 21%, is the second most cited issue). 

Among likely Conservative voters, 76% say they significantly (31%) or fairly (45%) trust Boris Johnson and his Government on Brexit, more respondents than on any other issue except for the coronavirus pandemic, where 80% of this group say they significantly (40%) or fairly (40%) trust Boris Johnson and his Government to deliver. Altogether then, Brexit is still a leading attraction for voters thinking about voting Conservative. 

To be sure, the proportion of voters who are thinking about voting Conservative is smaller than the one that ultimately voted Conservative in 2019, but this reduction was, arguably, always going to happen. The 2019 General Election was an exceptional election, whereby the Conservatives were able to win big by offering voters a particular path out of a political traffic jam rather than by offering concrete policies. A number of voters who would ordinarily not be particularly attracted to the Conservative Party platform were primarily won over by this particular path forward. After clearing the political traffic jam, holding onto such voters was always going to be a Herculean task.

For the rest, a still substantial number, delivering not just on Brexit but on the promises of Brexit was a significant part of why they voted Conservative in 2019. 65% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 say being outside of the European Union primarily presents the UK with opportunities to be maximised (as opposed to drawbacks to be minimised, an option selected by 19% of this group). A similar number (63%) say the United Kingdom outside of the European Union has more control over its own affairs (as opposed to as much control or less control). These voters are going to be—or have already been—expecting more.

As such, while it will certainly not win over the entire cohort of 2019 Conservative voters, returning to Brexit will nevertheless strengthen the appeal of Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party for a number of their previous voters. The question should not be whether it makes sense for Boris Johnson to return to Brexit. On that question, our polling is clearly in the affirmative. The better question is whether Boris Johnson will successfully be able to demonstrate the positives, the return on investment, of Brexit to his voters. 

On that question, the jury is mostly still out. 2019 Conservative voters are, understandably, split on whether the UK economy is, with the UK outside of the EU, stronger (28%), weaker (27%), or similar (30%) to what it would have been otherwise. A staggering 60% meanwhile say the cost-of-living is higher than what it would have been otherwise. In addition, Conservative voters are also split on whether immigration into the UK from the EU is now higher (30%), lower (22%), or similar (31%) to what it would have been otherwise. For Conservative voters, the benefits of Brexit for the economy, the NHS, and the immigration system have thus far been hazy at best and utterly lacking at worst.

In two areas, however, there has been a demonstration of the positives of Brexit to Conservative voters. 47% find the UK’s response to the war in Ukraine to have been stronger, and 54% say the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was better. An overwhelming 71% of Conservative voters think the UK’s vaccination programme—the standout area of the UK’s pandemic performance—was better with the UK outside of the EU.

If Boris Johnson and the Conservatives, in returning to Brexit, deliver more equivalents of the vaccine success in other areas of policy, they may just be able to win back enough voters to win the next general election. That, if anything, is the path to a seemingly improbable 2024 victory. 

But will they deliver?

Perspective: The R&WS Take on the News

Keir Starmer: I’ll quit if given Covid lockdown fine by police
BBC | 10 May 2022

OUR TAKE: Keir Starmer attracted front page headlines earlier this week in declaring that he will resign if he is fined by Durham Police for breaching coronavirus restrictions. The declaration itself is widely supported by the public: 61% support this decision by Starmer while just 6% oppose. However, amidst the broader public attention towards yet another police investigation, Starmer’s approval rating fell to -9% net on Wednesday, down from -2% net on Sunday.

Musk says he would reverse Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump
AP News | 10 May 2022

OUR TAKE: Elon Musk, currently in the process of purchasing Twitter, the social media platform, declared that he would reverse the ban of Donald Trump, stating that the original ban was “morally wrong.” The British public is overall split on this decision: 30% say they support it, and 33% say they oppose it. A further 37% are neutral or undecided.

R&WS in the Media

Each week we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

Interest rate hikes will start to hurt the key swing voters who gave Boris Johnson his majority
iNews | 6 May 2022

Labour takes Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster councils in blow to Tories
Evening Standard | 6 May 2022

The evidence shows both Leavers and Remainers think Brexit has increased the cost of living
UK in a CHanging Europe | 5 May 2022

Are you a journalist needing a stat for your latest piece? We can be your resource—our polling covers hundreds of issues in multiple countries each week. If you are working on an article on a topical issue, chances are we have already asked the public about it. Get in touch and we’ll share our polling data with you!

Our Research on Social Media

Top 5 Tweets This Week

  1. NEW: With the next General Election two years away, we want to step up our game. We’re thinking of releasing *two* Westminster Voting Intentions each week… but only if there’s interest. (10 May): (see full tweet)
  2. For the third consecutive week, more Britons trust the Labour Party than trust the Conservative Party in ALL policy areas on which we poll. (6 May): (see full tweet)
  3. At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better PM for the UK? (8 May): (see full tweet)
  4. Home Secretary Priti Patel Approval Rating (8 May): (see full tweet)
  5. At this moment, which of the following individuals do you think would be the better PM for the United Kingdom? (8 May): (see full tweet)

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