Written By Eoin Sheehan

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! This week, we examine how policy differences over immigration are reopening fractures within the Conservative Parliamentary Party and imperil Rishi Sunak’s leadership.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • Mark Drakeford resigns as Welsh First Minister
  • Donald Trump extends his lead over Joe Biden in key swing states   

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 (10 December):

Labour 43% (+1)
Conservative 25% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 13% (+2)
Reform UK 11% (+1)
Green 5% (-1)
Scottish National Party 2% (-1)
Other 1% (+1)

Changes +/- 3 December

Combined Net Approval Ratings (10 December):

Keir Starmer: +6% (-1)
Rishi Sunak: -15% (-1)

Changes +/- 3 December

When Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister in October 2022, the Conservative Party he took over, thoroughly divided, had reached a low of 19% in Westminster Voting Intention polling in Great Britain.

In the months prior, Conservative MPs had defenestrated first Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss. In the leadership race to succeed Truss, only 193 Conservative MPs (out of more than 350) ultimately publicly endorsed Rishi Sunak, leaving a sizeable minority who either backed rival candidates or remained publicly silent on their preference.

In his first speech from the steps of Downing Street, Sunak therefore made a necessary pledge to reunify his party, promising that he would, “reach out and build a government that represents the very best traditions of my party.”

Privately, he gave his party’s MPs a simple message, “Unite or die.”

One year later, in October 2023, more than half of British voters identified the Conservative Party as “more divided” on the question of what they stood for and believed in. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party itself has barely improved from its polling low, now standing at around 25%, just six percentage points higher than its lowest under Truss.

Still disunited and still dying.

And so, again, this week, Rishi Sunak has privately repeated his blunt message, “Unite or die.”

But the message is clearly not working. 

Recent weeks have seen Sunak’s internal critics within the party become increasingly vocal. And they have done so over an issue that is of critical importance to Conservative party members and voters: Immigration.

Following the high-profile resignations of Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, more than two dozen Conservative MPs abstained on the vote to approve the second reading of the Rwanda Bill, which would disapply some sections of Britain’s Human Rights Act and allow ministers to decide on whether to comply with any injunction from the European Court of Human Rights. 

While most of those who abstained did so because they feel the Bill does not go far enough, many more MPs have threatened to abstain or vote against the third reading of the Bill in January unless amendments are made.

The Government thus finds itself caught in a dilemma, as amending the Bill to the satisfaction of some MPs may sacrifice the support of others.

But abandoning the Rwanda Bill is not an option for a Government which needs to show it is doing something (anything) to try and tackle the visually evocative issue of small boat crossings. 

Indeed, immigration has now slipped below the economy, housing, and the NHS as the issue on which the Government earns its worst approval rating (-28%). Crucially, a plurality of 2019 Conservative voters (43%) disapprove of the Government’s performance on immigration.

For Conservative MPs in both the traditionally Conservative ‘Blue Wall’ seats of southern England and in the ‘Red Wall’ seats the Conservatives won from Labour in 2019, the polling on immigration makes sobering reading.

Immigration now ranks as one of the top two issues (alongside the NHS) that voters in the ‘Blue Wall’ seats are most likely to say they do ‘not trust at all’ in the Conservatives to deliver on. And in the ‘Red Wall,’ a higher percentage of voters (55%) now say they do ‘not trust at all’ the Conservatives to deliver on immigration than at any time since we started our Red Wall tracker in June 2022.

On Wednesday, The Daily Express published a claim from one Conservative MP that “as many as 40 letters asking for a vote of confidence in Sunak” had been sent into the 1922 Committee. Even if that number were true, it would still be more than a dozen short of meeting the threshold of 53 letters required to call a vote of confidence.

But the next vote on the Rwanda Bill in January now looms as a de facto confidence vote in Sunak’s leadership. Although Sunak dodged questions in advance of Tuesday’s vote as to whether he would treat defeat as a vote of no confidence in himself and call a General Election, defeat next month would surely increase the calls for yet another Prime Minister to step down.

Last October, the general, perhaps reluctant, consensus among Conservative MPs was that Rishi Sunak stood the best chance of pulling off an upset victory at the next General Election and preserving their majority.

But now, with Labour holding a national lead of 18% and Starmer beating Sunak as the person voters think would be a better Prime Minister by 12 points (42% vs 30%), many Conservative MPs may wonder if they have anything to lose by rebelling against their leader.

Unite or die, the Prime Minister urges, but there are plenty of Conservative MPs who seem unwilling to live with unity.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford Resigns

On Wednesday, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced his immediate resignation as the leader of Welsh Labour, although he will remain in place as First Minister of Wales until his party elects his successor.

Drakeford, who led Welsh Labour to within one seat of an overall majority at the 2021 Senedd Election, had already announced his intention to step down from the Senedd before the next election several months ago, and said on Monday that he would step down as First Minister sometime in 2024.

Drakeford’s popularity, and that of his Government, has taken a severe blow in recent months due to the backlash against the Welsh Government’s implementation of a default 20mph speed limit in residential and built-up areas.

That backlash had seen Drakeford’s net approval rating tumble by eleven points between August and September (in which time the changes were introduced), before settling at a new low of -17% in our latest Welsh tracker poll published on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the Welsh Conservatives (who have been the most vocal opponents of the new speed limit) do not appear to have been able to take advantage of Drakeford’s Government’s struggles on the issue.

Drakeford steps down as Labour leader with his party 19-points ahead of the Conservatives in our Senedd Constituency Voting Intention poll (41% vs 22%), while Labour is also first in our Regional List Voting Intention Poll, taking 28% of the vote, with Plaid Cymru in second at 24%, and the Conservatives a further four points back in third on 20%.

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.

Trump vs Biden: Swing State Polling

US Swing States Voting Intention (27-29 November):

(Donald Trump | Joe Biden | Robert F. Kennedy Jr.)

AZ (40% | 33% | 10%)
FL (44% | 34% | 9%)
GA (45% | 35% | 7%)
MI (39% | 38% | 9%)
NC (44% | 35% | 8%)
PA (44% | 37% | 7%)

As Democrats grow increasingly anxious over the state of President Biden’s re-election bid, our latest poll of key swing states for The Telegraph will do nothing to ease their concerns.

The poll was conducted between 27 and 29 November among 6,184 voters in the six key swing states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

We find Donald Trump now leads Joe Biden in all six states polled, with his advantages ranging from as narrow as 1% in Michigan to as wide as 10% in Florida and Georgia.

Our polling continues to suggest that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent candidacy appears to be doing more to damage Joe Biden’s chances of re-election than those of Donald Trump, with more Biden 2020 than Trump 2020 voters saying they would vote for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. if he was a candidate in all six states polled. In fact, more than twice as many Biden 2020 as Trump 2020 voters would vote for RFK Jr. in North Carolina (11% vs 5%) and Michigan (11% vs 4%).

While Donald Trump remains the overwhelming favourite to win the Republican nomination, hopefuls like Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley remain in the Republican Primary contest in the hope of causing an upset and winning the party’s nomination.

However, our poll finds both DeSantis and Haley doing worse against Biden in all six states than Trump. In a hypothetical matchup against DeSantis, Biden leads in four of the six states polled (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), while DeSantis leads in Florida (38% vs 34%) and North Carolina (38% vs 34%).

Haley fares even worse. In a hypothetical contest with Biden, the incumbent President holds leads in five states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), while Haley only leads in North Carolina, which neighbours her own home state of South Carolina.

Nonetheless, with Trump still the favourite to be the Republican candidate next November, the findings of our latest poll underscore the tough starting position for President Biden as he seeks to overcome public scepticism about his management of the economy, soaring immigration numbers, and his advancing age to secure a second term.

R&WS in the Media

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

Polling shows what people really think of the contenders to be Wales’ next First Minister
Wales Online | 13 December 2023

Reform UK hits 11% in new poll threat to the Tories
Daily Mail | 12 December 2023

Exclusive: Joe Biden’s Nightmare Polling in Michigan
Newsweek | 12 December 2023

‘Bidenomics’ failing to win electorate support in battleground states
Telegraph | 2 December 2023

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Numbers of the Week

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