Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we analyse the results of the recent Local and Mayoral Elections in England.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • The state of the US Presidential Election in the 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 (12 May):

Labour 42% (-2)
Conservative 21% (–)
Reform UK 15% (–)
Liberal Democrat 12% (+3)
Green 6% (+1)
Scottish National Party 3% (–)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 5 May

Combined Net Approval Ratings (12 May):

Keir Starmer: +5% (-4)
Rishi Sunak: -23% (–)

Changes +/- 5 May

With parliament due to rise next Friday for a week’s long recess for Whitsun, Rishi Sunak and the Conservative hierarchy have much to ponder during their break.

Nationally, the picture continues to look bleak.

For a ninth consecutive week, the Conservatives trail Labour by 20% or more in our headline Westminster Voting Intention poll. It is now four months (January 14) since the Conservatives last broke 25% in national vote share, while it is now the same length of time since the party last retained the support of at least 50% of its own 2019 voters.

The local elections (see Long Exposure) delivered a devastating series of blows for the party. 

And the travails of the SNP in Scotland have had no benefit for the Conservatives, with Labour instead jumping out into a 7% lead in Westminster voting intention in Scotland instead, their largest lead in Scotland since June 2014. A Labour revival north of the border would make the already slim chance of the Conservative Party being returned to government after the next election even more remote.

Against this dire backdrop, Rishi Sunak used a speech on Monday to attempt yet another policy re-set for his Government, this time by defining his party—in contrast to Labour—as the only party serious about Britain’s national security. His message was echoed by the Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, who warned that Labour’s defence policy “presents a danger to this country because it will send a signal to our adversaries that we’re not serious about our defence.”

The problem with this message? The public doesn’t believe it: Defence is yet another issue on which the public trusts Labour more than the Conservatives.

Every attempt by Rishi Sunak to make the next election about something else—from the ‘Five Priorities’ to the rights of motorists, from policies on net zero to change versus more of the same, to now national security and defence—only exposes the policy confusion and lack of results which have characterised his time in office.

As our polling in early May found, a plurality of 41% of Britons think Sunak has accomplished ‘nothing at all’ since entering office, while majorities believe Sunak has no plan for how to make the United Kingdom a better place (54%) and does not have a plan for the UK that is working (64%).

Against such damning numbers, trying to scare voters into voting Conservative by claiming only they can keep them safe is to take the public for fools.

2024 US Presidential Election

Trump vs Biden: Swing States Poll (2-4 May)

While Donald Trump spends his days stuck in a Manhattan courtroom attending his ‘hush money’ trial, the polls show the former President continues to lead incumbent President Joe Biden both nationally and in the key swing states.

Our most recent national poll showed the former President with a 2% advantage over President Biden (43% to 41%), with independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on 7% and a further 5% of voters undecided.

Our latest poll of key swing states for The Telegraph buttresses the view that Trump is currently leading the race.

Our poll of 3,920 swing state voters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania finds Donald Trump leads Joe Biden in all six states which we polled, having widened his margins in four of the six states polled since our previous poll conducted in Mid-March. At the same time, Trump’s leads have narrowed by one point to just 2% (within the margin of error) in both Arizona and Pennsylvania.

In addition, a plurality of voters in all six states believe Trump is now the more likely of the two men to win the election

Between 42% and 47% of voters believe Donald Trump would be the more likely winner in a contest with Biden, while only between 33% and 36% believe Biden would be the most likely winner.

And our poll also finds that, far from damaging him, a guilty verdict in his ‘hush money’ trial could actually boost President Trump’s chances of re-election.

Pluralities of voters (32%-40%) in five of the six states (Pennsylvania being the exception) say they would be more likely to vote for Trump in the Presidential Election if he were found guilty in his New York criminal trial.

However, voters are split on the effect Trump’s on-going legal issues have on his chances of re-election. 

Pluralities of voters in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania think his legal issues make his re-election less likely, while pluralities in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina think they make his re-election more likely.

To stay up to date on our US polling, sign up for email updates here.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

What the Local Elections Tell Us About the State of British Politics

Standing beside the re-elected Conservative Mayor of Tees Valley, Rishi Sunak tried his best to put a positive spin on things. 

The Prime Minister declared, “I’ve got a message for the Labour Party too, because they know that they have to win here in order to win a general election. They know that. They assumed that Tees Valley would stroll back to them, but it didn’t.”

In the football mad North East, Sunak seemed to be channelling Kevin Keegan’s famous “I would love it if we beat them” rant at Manchester United in the dying days of the 1996 Premier League season.

On that occasion, Newcastle collapsed down the final stretch to hand the title to United. From Tees Valley on 3 May, however, the local election results elsewhere in the country suggested the Conservatives, now on their third manager this season, were facing relegation.

The defeat of the popular Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, was the stand-out result on a day which saw the Conservatives suffer a net loss of 474 councillors and lose control of 12 Councils. In London, Susan Hall, despite some thoughts earlier in the cycle that she might be able to defeat Labour’s Sadiq Khan, lost comfortably.

In fact, Houchen’s own result contained portents of doom. From 73% of the vote and a majority of 76,000 in 2021, Houchen’s vote share fell to just 54% as he won re-election with a majority of 19,000. 

As Labour’s spinners were quick to point out, a similar swing in Tees Valley in a General Election would see every parliamentary seat in the region go to Labour.

Even that large swing in Tees Valley, however, has hidden how bad things have become for the Conservatives. As our own polling of the Tees Valley race illustrates, many of those who voted for Houchen will not vote Conservative at a General Election.

A similar story was true in the West Midlands, where only 71% of Andy Street’s likely voters in the mayoral election said they would vote Conservative in a General Election.

In short, Houchen’s victory in Tees Valley, against a massive swing, and Street’s narrow defeat are overperformances for where the Conservative Party actually are.

And although only a slice of the national electorate was eligible to vote in the recent local elections—about a third of the local councils in England held elections, for example—the results nonetheless give us some important indicators about the state of British politics ahead of the next General Election.

The first, most obvious conclusion, is that the Conservatives have suffered a heavy defeat. 

Symbolically, the result amounts to a rejection of the party in many areas that will be vital come the General Election, like the East Midlands. Practically, the results have stripped the party of hundreds of Councillors who would normally be the most committed and active campaigners for Westminster candidates at a General Election campaign.

Reform UK proved again its threat to the Conservatives. In the limited number of council elections where the party stood, Reform won 11% of the vote, up from essentially 0% in 2021, while the Conservative vote share had declined 19%. In the Blackpool South by-election that took place on the same day, the Conservatives finished a distant second to Labour in a seat they had won by 3,690 votes in 2019, beating Reform UK into third place by only 117 votes.

That Rishi Sunak limps on in office owes everything to the reluctance of his internal enemies to move against him and nothing to any belief among his colleagues that he has what it takes to guide the party to victory.

Secondly, despite a strong overall performance, the local elections come with a number of asterisks that leave Keir Starmer and his brains trust with thinking to do as they head into the General Election.

Across Britain, Labour now have the largest number of councillors (about 39% of the total according to one estimate) of any party, compared with the Conservatives who now hold about 31% of all local council seats. 

However, it can no longer be doubted that the party’s stance on Gaza has clearly caused a rupture with some normally Labour-supporting Muslim voters, illustrated most dramatically by the success in parts of Birmingham of the independent West Midlands Mayoral candidate, Akhmed Yakoob. In 58 local council wards where more than one-in-five residents identify as Muslim that were analysed by the BBC, Labour’s share of the vote was down 21% on the previous set of local election results.

George Galloway’s success in the Rochdale by-election offers would-be independent candidates a template for targeting Labour MPs in constituencies where anger at the party’s position on Gaza is apparent.

The Greens, meanwhile, loom as another threat to Labour on its left, becoming the largest party on Bristol City Council and winning every council seat in the parliamentary constituency of Bristol Central, their top target at the next election. 

Thirdly, the Liberal Democrats showed strength in a number of their target areas in the “Blue Wall,” including winning control of the councils in Dorset and Tunbridge Wells. With the Liberal Democrats vote share in our last two Blue Wall Voting Intention polls having risen to now stand at 23%, the party will hope it might soon overtake the Conservatives who, at 25%, are currently on their lowest share of the vote we have ever recorded in these seats.

Proportionately, it is worth pointing out that both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens won more net seats than Labour, although it was Labour who achieved the greatest absolute gain in seat numbers.

Finally, despite the red herring attempts to project the results of a set of local elections only held in parts of England onto a General Election in which everyone in the United Kingdom will vote, the results of the 2 May election are not a reliable forecast of what will happen in the General Election.

As our various mayoral polls made clear, voters appreciate the difference between local and national elections, and will vote accordingly.

The problem for Rishi Sunak and his party is that such differentiation spells even worse prospects for his party come the General Election than they managed in the local elections. 

Ben Houchen won in Tees Valley despite being a Conservative. 

Andy Street in the West Midlands came within 2,000 votes of winning despite being a Conservative.

For those local candidates, their only hope of winning was by emphasising their independence from the national party. Houchen, indeed, has continued to do so even after the vote. For General Election candidates in a national election, appearing as more independent from the broader Conservative party will not be as easy.

The Local Elections leave all parties with thinking to do. But for the Conservatives, nothing in the results from 2 May suggest anything other than a defeat of historic proportions is coming their way.

R&WS in the Media

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

Americans Shrug Over Falling Birthrate
Newsweek | 15 May 2024

‘Obsessed’ John Swinney claims Scottish independence could be delivered in five years – despite polls signalling SNP bloodbath
The Scottish Sun | 10 May 2024

Gen Z says weddings should be cheaper. Here’s how to make that happen
The Guardian | 8 May 2024

Do perceptions of Labour’s stance on Brexit matter?
UK in a Changing Europe | 7 May 2024

How Wales’s Senedd came from ‘local authority-like’ to ‘fully-fledged parliament’ in 25 years
Sky News | 6 May 2024

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

Have a question or want to know more about our research? Get in touch! Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

Share this issue of Magnified:

Our Most Recent Research