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 examine recent calls by ‘Red Wall’ Conservative MPs to run a referendum on Net Zero.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • Labour and the SNP now tied in Scotland
  • How would Britons vote in the 2024 US Presidential Election?

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 (3 September):

Labour 44% (–)
Conservative 28% (–)
Liberal Democrat 14% (+2)
Reform UK 6% (-1)
Green 4% (–)
Scottish National Party 3% (–)
Other 1% (-2)

Changes +/- 27 August

Combined Net Approval Ratings (3 September):

Keir Starmer: +15% (+3)
Rishi Sunak: -12% (+3)

Changes +/- 27 August

Government Ministers and Conservative MPs could have been forgiven for wishing their summer recess had been extended.

Last week, just days before the start of a new school year, news broke that the Department of Education had been contacting schools to warn them to be ready to evacuate buildings constructed from Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC)

The official government list of schools with RAAC-related structural issues now runs to 147, 23 of which have been forced to delay the start of term or move to remote learning, thereby disrupting the schooling of over 11,000 children.

To make matters worse for the governing Conservative Party, Jonathan Slater, the former top civil servant in the Department of Education, alleged that Rishi Sunak had, as Chancellor, halved the budget for school repairs when asked to double it, despite being warned that crumbling school buildings posed a “critical risk to life.”

And, to top it off, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was caught on Monday this week complaining on hot mic about not being thanked for doing a “f****** good job” over the crisis. A subsequent Tweet by her claiming that most schools were unaffected by the crisis was then adroitly mocked by Labour’s social media team.

Altogether, this crisis has served to create a miserable return to normal parliamentary business for Rishi Sunak, whom voters give failing grades on all of his five pledges. 

By comparison, Keir Starmer enjoyed an excellent week, with the Government again in turmoil and a shadow cabinet reshuffle quietly executed without sparking a backlash from within his party. 

Against this backdrop, our polling continues to underline the strength of Labour’s position, with the party holding a 16% lead in Great Britain in our latest national voting intention poll, while also enjoying a 16-point lead in our latest ‘Red Wall’ poll and tying the SNP in Scotland (see below).

Starmer’s approval rating this week (+15%) hit its highest level since November last year. The Labour leader also enjoys a yawning 17-point advantage over Sunak as the person Britons think would be the better Prime Minister at this moment (46% vs 29%), tying his largest ever lead over Sunak in their personal head-to-head (and his largest since Sunak became PM last October).

Latest Scotland Tracker

Scottish Independence Referendum Voting Intention (2-4 September)

No, against Independence: 49% (+1)
Yes, for Independence: 44% (-1)
Don’t Know: 6% (-1)

Changes +/- 5-6 August

Scottish Westminster Voting Intention (2-4 September)

Scottish National Party 35% (-2)
Labour 35% (+1)
Conservative 15% (-2)
Liberal Democrat 8% (+1)
Green 4% (+2)
Reform 2% (–)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 5-6 August

Labour’s recovery in Scotland is real.

After winning just one parliamentary seat in Scotland at the 2019 General Election with just 19% of the vote, our latest Scottish Westminster Voting Intention poll finds the SNP and Labour tied at 35% each.

This result marks only the second Westminster Voting Intention Poll publicly released by any company since June 2014 in which the SNP has not led in Scotland.

Having finished third in Scotland behind not only the SNP but also the Conservatives in both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, nothing would do more to increase the chances of a Labour Government than a recovery north of the border. Labour’s path back to power in Westminster runs squarely through Scotland.

With the Hamilton West and Rutherglen by-election now set to be contested on 5 October, both the SNP and Labour face a crucial electoral test that could be a critical bellwether for how Scotland will vote at the next General Election.

Chart of the Week

The first Republican Primary in Iowa is now just a little over four months away, and former President Donald Trump remains in pole position to be the Republican nominee for President, despite—or, perhaps, because of—his lengthening list of legal issues. 

On the Democratic side, the chances of a viable competitor emerging to challenge President Joe Biden for his party’s nomination appear slim, even amid widespread concerns about the President’s age.

And so, America appears set, with a palpable lack of enthusiasm, for a re-run of the 2020 Election.

While our most recent US poll shows a tight race for the popular vote between the two (with Trump currently in a narrow lead), polling in Britain shows that, if British voters were given the choice, Joe Biden would be returning to the White house with a comfortable margin of victory.

47% of Britons say they would vote for Joe Biden, while around half as many (24%) say they would vote for Donald Trump. 29% say they don’t know which way they would vote.

Majorities of both 2019 Labour (60%) and Liberal Democrat (60%) voters as well as 40% of 2019 Conservative voters would support Biden. 29% of 2019 Conservative voters would vote for Trump in 2024.

However, these figures do represent a slight narrowing in British public opinion relative to a few years ago. In a poll just days before the 2020 election, 55% of British voters said they would vote for Biden if they were US citizens, and 20% said they would vote for Donald Trump.

Hire Us: If you are a business, campaign, or research organisation looking to expand your understanding of public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has the tools to help. Get in touch to find out more.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Net Zero Referendum Pitch Shows How Lost Conservatives Are

It bears repeating again and again.

The 2019 General Election was not decided by policies. Rather, voters were presented with different scenarios to get out of the Brexit impasse:

  • (1) Stop Brexit (Liberal Democrats)
  • (2) A Second Referendum (Labour)
  • (3) Get Brexit Done (Conservatives)

With Parliament and British politics at a standstill, no other issue, no matter how important to voters ordinarily, could be addressed until this one had been put behind us.

What, therefore, was the Conservative Party’s policy on the economy? Get Brexit done. What was their policy on the NHS? Get Brexit done. Immigration? Get Brexit done. And so on.

With a single thread, the Conservative Party stitched together an improbable coalition of voters: three quarters of Leave voters and a quarter of Remain voters; rural voters, wealthy suburban voters, and voters in left behind towns; voters whose family had voted Labour for generations and voters who had voted Conservative for generations; voters who like lower taxes and voters who like the welfare state; voters who would trust Labour with the NHS and voters who would trust Nigel Farage on immigration.

The details of Boris Johnson’s “oven-ready” deal or of his party’s broader agenda were irrelevant to this group of voters. Levelling Up, the catch-all slogan for what the Conservatives planned to do after Brexit, was vague and abstract—a useful quality for keeping the election focused on Brexit, but not, it turned out, for much else. 

In truth, the Conservatives lacked a platform of policies that could unite its broad 2019 electoral base or, at the very least, be used to govern. The scenario-based nature of the 2019 election (and then the pandemic) hid this reality. Once Brexit got done and the pandemic ended, the thread began to unwind.

Ever since, Conservative Party politicians and strategists, including three different Prime Ministers, have vainly tried to come up with a new election-winning platform for the party, a magic glue that could re-stitch their 2019 coalition.

The recent Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election, won largely on the basis of local opposition to the expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), has led some Conservative politicians to offer yet another hastily scrambled answer: opposition to Net Zero.

In August, a group of ‘Red Wall’ Conservative MPs therefore proposed putting Britain’s commitment to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 (a goal enshrined in law by Theresa May in the dying days of her premiership) to a public referendum.

Karl McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln, outlined the rationale to the Daily Telegraph:

“The establishment was solely focused on chasing approval from London’s woke eco-zealot crowd who have no clue what happens in the real world.

Just like Brexit, the Government needs to make sure the public are on board with such radical changes, and that they hear the arguments and can make an informed decision.”

McCartney and backbench MPs like him feel that Net Zero is an issue, like Brexit, where the Conservatives can place themselves in opposition to a perceived London-liberal elite and on the side of people in the ‘real world.’

While the Prime Minister has already ruled out the prospect of such a referendum, that the idea was floated at all suggests the degree of desperation to find an issue, any issue, on which the Conservatives might be able to get voters behind them again, create a contrast with Labour, and re-stitch their magical 2019 coalition.

However, there are two key problems with this proposal:

First and foremost, until five minutes ago, the Conservative Party had been in favour of pursuing Net Zero (and, indeed, still is!). The United Kingdom hosted COP26 in 2021, with Boris Johnson as keynote speaker. Theresa May enshrined Net Zero into law, and David Cameron famously visited the Arctic in 2006 in an attempt to rebrand the Conservatives’ stance on the environment.

Years of positioning on this issue is therefore reflected in current polling: a plurality of 42% of voters in the Red Wall, including 59% of those who voted Conservative in 2019, believe that the Conservative Party supports seeking to reduce the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050. Just 14% of voters in these seats think the party opposes this objective.

How feasible is it then for a party that has supported the pursuit of Net Zero for years to turn around and say, actually, we oppose this policy?

Brexit itself is instructive in this regard. 

In 2016, most Conservative Party MPs, including the Prime Minister at the time, supported Remain. Three years later, defections within the party meant it could no longer command a majority in the House of Commons. It took the existential threat posed by the Brexit Party to force the Conservatives to coalesce around Boris Johnson and his do-or-die approach to getting Brexit done.

There is no reason not to think a similar realignment on Net Zero would be equally, if not more, internally disruptive, and to expect such a transformation within the space of less than a year is simply unrealistic.

Second, and more importantly, there is no articulated alternative to Net Zero.

If the question of simply whether to commit or not commit to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 is put to voters, our polling finds that an overwhelming majority (64%) of Red Wall voters, including 61% of likely Conservative voters, would vote to commit the United Kingdom to reducing the country’s carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050.

Only 22% of voters in these seats, and just 26% of likely Conservative voters, would vote to not commit the UK to the Net Zero target.

This decisive majority comes despite voters being largely in line with the key points made by those who oppose the pursuit of Net Zero.

For starters, voters are nearly unanimous that the pursuit of Net Zero will be expensive. Just 5% of Red Wall voters say pursuing Net Zero will be ‘not at all’ expensive, while a clear majority of 61% say it will be ‘expensive’ or ‘very expensive.’ 35%, meanwhile, believe the costs of this pursuit have been unfairly applied, against 26% who believe they have been fairly applied.

In addition, after a brutal year of inflation which has left most Red Wall voters feeling worse off, 68% agree with the statement, “Higher energy bills are NOT a price worth paying to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.”

Above all, nearly half of Red Wall voters (45%) do not have confidence in the United Kingdom’s ability to reach net zero by 2050, and an overwhelming 59% also do not have confidence in the world as a whole to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

All these points are true, but, at the same time, voters do care about the environment and are not climate change sceptics. 41% of British voters say the environment will be ‘extremely’ important in determining how they will vote at the next election—fewer than say the same regarding the economy (64%) and healthcare (66%) to be sure, but still a sizeable number.

Therefore, when voters are presented with a choice between doing something and doing nothing, doing something will win, no matter how expensive and in vain the policy may be.

In this respect, the Net Zero referendum pitch is fundamentally different from Brexit. ‘Leave’ inherently presented itself as an action point, while ‘Remain’ presented as a do-nothing status quo. Here, committing to Net Zero appears as an action for voters to take, while abandoning the commitment, though different from the status quo, appears as the do-nothing approach.

If the policy choice is between Net Zero and some other more economically sustainable environmental agenda, the latter choice could very well win. But has anyone articulated that policy alternative well enough? What is the actionable alternative to Net Zero?

In the end, the Net Zero referendum pitch reveals how lost the Conservative Party has become. Like its predecessors (getting Brexit done, levelling up, and, more recently, Rishi Sunak’s five pledges), the position is simply not a governing agenda. To merely oppose Net Zero would be to avoid, yet again, saying anything meaningful about what the Conservative Party intends to achieve.

What does the Conservative Party stand for? Still, there is no answer.

Data Tables

R&WS in the Media

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

Fresh blow for SNP as new poll shows Labour have drawn level with Humza Yousaf’s party in Scotland ahead of the next general election
The Daily Mail | 6 September 2023

Vivek Ramaswamy: How Donald Trump’s biggest cheerleader could find backdoor to White House
The Telegraph | 6 September 2023

Rishi Sunak is attempting a leadership reset. He may be too late
Politico | 4 September 2023

Mixed Verdict: Rishi Sunak is trusted more than Keir Starmer on economy, but gets hammered on 5 Pledges
The Sun on Sunday | 2 September 2023

What do voters think about foreign policy post-Brexit?
UK in a Changing Europe | 1 September 2023

Joe Biden Receives Approval Rating Boost Over Maui Wildfire Response
Newsweek | 26 August 2023

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!

Numbers of the Week

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