Labour's bad day, and other stories
Today has not been a great day for Labour. Early this morning, the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election was called, and the Labour candidate chalked up a mere 10.2% of the vote, down 7 points from the 2015 election. The Labour Party was put into 4th place in the seat, behind UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. Today is also the day that YouGov has given Labour a headline voting intention figure of 25%, the lowest vote share for Labour in a YouGov poll since September 2009.
Labour and the Tories in the headline polls
While this 25% result is, frankly, dire for an opposition party, this isn’t as big a surprise as it should be – over the last month, Labour has been polling in the high twenties in 7 of the 9 polls released. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have had a steady increase in their poll numbers since their rocket-boosted performance when Theresa May became Prime Minister. A typical poll now has the Tories hovering around the 41% mark and Labour somewhere around 28%. Indeed, our rolling average model today has the Conservatives on 41.5% and Labour on 27%.
There’s been much discussion (read: fevered screaming matches on Twitter) regarding the root of Labour’s woes. Is it the result of a weak leader, a disunited party, confusion over Brexit, or something else entirely? Proving any of these conclusions from voting intention data alone is an impossible task. But what happens when you ask the voters? A while ago, YouGov interviewed over 1000 people who said they no longer trusted Labour.
46% of those polled said that Labour’s having a weak leader constituted one of the four biggest reasons they no longer trusted the party.
And while this particular poll was conducted on 30th September, there’s little evidence that the composition of the reasons for Labour’s ‘defectors’ has changed much. The graph below shows the net satisfaction ratings for the Conservative and Labour party leaders since January 2016, taken from Ipsos MORI data. Since Theresa May became Prime Minister, her net satisfaction rating hasn’t dropped below +16, while in the same period, Jeremy Corbyn’s rating hasn’t risen above -24. In the last Ipsos poll taken in mid-November, the Prime Minister’s lead over the Labour leader stood at an astonishing 53 points – her +24 to his -29.
Who owns the issues?
Unsurprisingly, Brexit has been the most important issue in voters’ minds over the last few months. The latest YouGov poll has 61% of Brits identify it as the crucial issue of the day. Following some way behind is immigration (44%), the economy (38%), health (35%), and housing (17%). On these three largest issues, the Conservatives are leading comfortably. While Labour retains its traditional advantage over health and housing, the size of these leads should be a cause of worry: on housing, the party is barely ahead on 2 points, and its lead on the NHS is 5 points. This compares poorly to the Tories’ much larger leads on Brexit (18 points), immigration (13 points) and the economy (22 points).
Meh. There’s been much talk since the EU referendum about the recalibration of British politics around the Brexit issue, with the Liberal Democrats serving as the chief opposition to the pro-Brexit Conservative government. While this reasoning is sound enough to predict some recovery in the party’s standing in the polls, it’s hard to say anything yet. Since the referendum, our rolling average model sees the Lib Dems go from 7.25% in the polls to 9% now. Since the typical margin of error for a poll is +/- 3%, this 1.75 point rise shouldn’t be exaggerated in its importance.