Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we examine the collapse of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition in the Leave-voting Red Wall and what that collapse means for the party’s strategy in the coming General Election.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • What Americans think Israel should do next in Gaza

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 (17 March):

Labour 47% (+5)
Conservative 21% (-3)
Reform UK 14% (–)
Liberal Democrat 8% (-4)
Green 6% (+1)
Scottish National Party 3% (+1)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 10 March

Combined Net Approval Ratings (17 March):

Keir Starmer: +8% (–)
Rishi Sunak: -23% (-4)

Changes +/- 10 March

Even by recent, abysmal standards, the last two weeks have been rough for Rishi Sunak.

First, Lee Anderson, the recently deposed Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, announced he was leaving the Conservative Party to join Reform UK.

Then came the story that the largest single donor to the Conservative Party, Frank Hester, had made derogatory comments about Diane Abbott which the Prime Minister called “racist.”

Last weekend’s newspapers brought a flurry of stories about Conservative MPs apparently contemplating Sunak’s removal, with Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat floated as potential successors.

And finally, the Government has been defeated in multiple votes this week in the House of Lords on the Rwanda Bill, starkly highlighting Sunak’s failure to deliver on his signature pledge to tackle small boat crossings.

All the while, the Government’s poll ratings have sunk further and further into the mire.

Our latest national Westminster voting intention poll finds the Labour Party leading by 26%, Labour’s largest lead in more than a year (26% on 5 March 2023). 

The Conservatives’ current vote share (21%) is their joint-lowest ever in our polling since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, just two points above their lowest ever under Liz Truss.

In Scotland, the Conservatives’ current vote share in our polling has fallen to 16%, down from the 25% the party took north of the border in 2019.

And in the Red Wall seats in the north and midlands of England, seats whose capture by the Conservatives in 2019 seemed to symbolise a historic realignment in British politics, the party faces a complete wipeout.

As our inFocus series has laid bare, voter antipathy to Rishi Sunak is visceral and widespread. 

His current approval ratings in our Red Wall (-25%), Blue Wall (-19%), and Scottish (-34%) trackers are all at new or joint-record lows.

With Jeremy Hunt seeming to have ruled out an election before the autumn, it appears voters will have to use the local elections in England and Wales on 2 May as their chance to render what will undoubtedly be a harsh judgement on the current administration.

Chart of the Week

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing one of the most consequential decisions of his time in office.

The Israeli leader appears poised to send the Israeli Defense Forces into Rafah, the largest city in southern Gaza, to pursue Hamas and achieve what the Prime Minister calls “total victory.” 

As he prepares to do so, the UN has warned of “catastrophic” consequences for the civilian population of any such assault.

In the hope of forestalling an attack on Rafah, the US has drafted a UN Security Council resolution which calls for an immediate ceasefire, in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages still held by Hamas, with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken currently touring Middle East capitals touting the plan.

But while President Biden has made clear his Administration’s opposition to an Israeli assault on Rafah, the wider American public is sharply divided over what Israel should do now.

Overall, 38% of Americans believe that Israel should keep fighting, even if that may mean the war’s destruction will continue, while an almost equal 37% believe Israel should seek peace, even if that may mean Hamas survives as a fighting force in Gaza.

The partisan division on what path Israel should now take is stark. 

Among Biden 2020 voters, 50% believe Israel should seek peace, while 29% believe it should keep fighting. But among those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020, those numbers are almost exactly reversed: 51% of Trump voters believe Israel should keep fighting, while 30% think Israel should now seek peace.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

With Red Wall Lost, Conservatives Should Try to Defend Blue Wall

As recently as last September, Red Wall Conservatives still had some hope.

Labour’s lead in the Red Wall had narrowed over the course of the year to 14%, the narrowest lead Labour had held in these seats since August 2022, when Boris Johnson was still Prime Minister.

Inspired by the upset victory in the Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election, Rishi Sunak was in the process of unveiling a set of policies—namely the rollback of net zero policies and a promise to adopt a “pro-motorist agenda”—that would attempt to win back culturally conservative voters.

The party’s most visible Red Wall MP, Lee Anderson, was meanwhile ensconced in the role of party Deputy Chairman, where he could reassure Red Wall voters that the party’s leadership was still looking out for their interests.

And yet, in the six months since then, especially following the sacking of Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the continued failure of the Rwanda Bill to get off the ground, the dim flicker of hope that some Red Wall Conservative MPs might have felt has gone out.

From 32% in our Red Wall poll in October 2023, the Conservatives’ vote share in the Red Wall have since been… 26%, 28%, 28%, 25%, and now 24%, just three points above their lowest under Liz Truss.

Their vote share in the Red Wall is now well below what the party achieved in the 2015 General Election, before Brexit had precipitated a major realignment.

Anderson himself has crossed the floor to sit as a Reform UK MP, who have seen their poll rating in the Red Wall climb to a new record-high of 16%.

That rise has been powered, in large measure, by the fracturing of the Conservatives 2019 electoral coalition. While only 46% of 2019 Conservative voters in the Red Wall say they intend to vote for the party again, a record high of 21% say they intend to vote for Reform (while a further 18% intend to vote for Labour).

The disaffection 2019 Conservative voters in the Red Wall feel for the party today is profound.

Compared to when they supported the party in 2019, 54% of the party’s voters in the Red Wall at the last election say the Conservative Party has performed worse than they expected in government, against only 9% who say it has performed better than they expected.

Majorities of 2019 Conservative voters agree that the party has taken their vote for them in 2019 for granted (65%), while also agreeing that they themselves have not changed but the Conservative Party has (69%).

More than two-thirds of 2019 Conservative voters now say that, if they were to decide not to vote Conservative again at the next election, the Government’s performance on the NHS (70%), immigration (69%), and the economy (66%) would be ‘significantly‘ or ‘fairly‘ reasons for their decision.

45% alone say ‘significantly’ with respect to immigration.

There is every reason to believe that these powerful motivations for voting against the Conservatives will still exist by the time the next election is called.

The basic problem for the Conservatives, ultimately, is structural.

The overwhelmingly decisive factor behind the Conservatives’ surge in these Leave-voting, Labour heartlands at the last election was Brexit, more specifically the mere promise to get Brexit done

With Brexit done, the Conservatives have had no further agenda to offer Red Wall voters. Levelling Up, the ostensible promise of what the Conservatives would do after getting Brexit done, has proven to be an empty slogan. In fact, it is the policy area in which Red Wall voters trust the Conservatives the least.

And so, now, simply stated: The Red Wall is gone.

The Conservatives will suffer a crushing defeat in these seats. It will be as if Brexit had never happened.

With the Conservatives no longer the party of Leave, their losses at the next election will be disproportionately among those constituencies that strongly voted to Leave in 2016

The seats they will have an easier time defending are those that were more Remain-voting in 2016 and therefore voted Conservative in 2019 despite their pro-Brexit message. 

With that in mind, if they are to be strategic about their campaign resources, the Conservatives should focus their energies on defending as many of the Blue Wall seats in southern England as they can.

True, the Conservatives also find themselves well down on their 2019 performance in these seats. 

At 28%, the Conservatives most recent poll rating in these seats is the joint-lowest that we have ever recorded, equalling the figure from our first poll of the Blue Wall in October 2022, during the dying days of Liz Truss’s premiership.

As it stands, only 50% of 2019 Conservative voters in these seats now say they would vote Conservative again, the second lowest figure in our tracker.

But it is here, rather than in the Red Wall or other marginal areas, that the party stands a better chance of reconnecting with the voters it has lost since 2019.

Here, among more culturally moderate, ‘small c’ conservative voters, with many three-way marginals to contest with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the party still retains a fighting chance of defending many of its vulnerable incumbents.

These seats voted Conservative in 2019 for more traditional, One-Nation Conservative reasons, specifically a belief in their competence and moderate governance.

While the party trails Labour as the party most trusted in these seats on key issues like immigration and the economy, Labour’s margins on these issues in the Blue Wall (6% and 2%, respectively) are far narrower than their yawning advantages in the Red Wall (16% and 14%, by comparison). The Conservatives even led in the Blue Wall in overall Voting Intention as recently as October.

Rather than veering further rightwards in a vain attempt to win back the Leave voters who have abandoned the party en masse (having become disenchanted with the Sunak Government’s habit of delivering only more talk and less action), the Conservatives would be wise to moderate and defend what they can.

It will not be enough to stave off election defeat, to be sure. But the party’s chief concern must now be to limit its losses. 

With the Red Wall (and much of the rest of the country) gone, and with right-wing activists and voters jumping ship to Reform, it is in the Blue Wall that the Conservatives must make their defensive stand.

R&WS in the Media

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

Do 2019 Conservative voters in the Red Wall feel let down?
ITV News | 20 March 2024

Tory cheers cannot hide their fears as Rishi Sunak struggles to keep his party onside
The Irish Times | 20 March 2024

Will the ‘Red Wall’ reshape British politics again?
The Financial Times | 19 March 2024

SNP set to gather for ‘campaign council’ as polls show them neck and neck with Labour
The Scotsman | 15 March 2024

What your vacation says about your social class
Newsweek | 14 March 2024

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Numbers of the Week

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