Corbyn vs Smith: Who Polls Best…Loses?

Corbyn vs Smith: Who Polls Best…Loses?

There is currently much debate in the Labour Party about what the membership is for.  One side – backing Corbyn in the contested leadership (re-)election – say that the members are sovereign; that the Labour Party is theirs and that they aren’t simply door-knocking fodder for central office.  The other side – best described as the messy coalition of anti-Corbynites backing Owen Smith – asserts that the Labour Party is a party designed to win power in Parliament and that the membership’s will is subsidiary to that primary aim.

What’s missing, it seems, is a concentrated look at what the electorate-at-large thinks of the two candidates.  Is Corbyn really that unpopular?  Does Owen Smith have the profile to take over the party leadership mid-term? How do the two candidates compare?  Thanks to the latest ComRes poll conducted on behalf of the Independent and Sunday Mirror, we can dig down into the numbers.

Smith wins Scotland, Corbyn wins the SNP

Across every broad region of the Kingdom, Smith is less unpopular than Corbyn.  While Corbyn has net negative favourability ratings in the twenties and thirties, Smith has net negative favourability ratings in the (mere) teens.  Even in Scotland, the supposed path to general election victory for the current leader, Smith beats him by 5 points.  Interestingly, though, of voters who intend to vote for the left-wing nationalist SNP in the next election, Jeremy Corbyn is far more popular (or less unpopular?) than his rival.  This can be interpreted in two ways: either Corbyn is, in fact, the candidate to win back the voters in SNP-held constituencies, or he appeals to people who aren’t even intending to vote for him and his party anyway.

For readers who prefer numbers, here’s the table:

Region

Corbyn

Smith

Who wins?

England

-28

-15

Smith – 13

Scotland

-20

-15

Smith – 5

North

-26

-17

Smith – 9

Midlands

-35

-11

Smith – 24

South

-26

-16

Smith – 10

 

Corbyn wins with the young

Earlier, we matched up Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  While Corbyn’s favourability with the under-35 age group was better than Theresa May’s (though still negative), his favourability ratings with older voters tanked almost exponentially, while the Prime Minister’s rose.  This pattern is repeated here in the comparison of Corbyn and Smith.  While Corbyn wins head-to-head contests against Owen Smith with voters between the ages of 18 and 34, that support turns over toward Smith thereafter, with Smith winning the over-65 age group by 41 points.

Age group

Corbyn

Smith

18 to 24

-1

-11

25 to 34

-3

-16

35 to 44

-18

-15

45 to 54

-30

-13

55 to 64

-42

-15

65 and older

-56

-15

Across classes: Smith unpopular with each, Corbyn even more so

For two people vying to lead the Labour Party into the next election, one might have expected them to poll better with the working class than richer, more professional voters.  This is not so for neither Corbyn nor Smith.  They both poll negatively and do so consistently across the AB, C1, C2 and DE social classes.  But while Corbyn polls between -26 and -29, Smith polls only between -13 and -18.  To be sure, these data are hardly anything for Owen Smith to be joyous about – especially as he has had far less attention and scrutiny than his opponent for the job – but if we’re looking into their relative popularity, it is worth concluding that Smith is consistently more popular than Jeremy Corbyn across the social classes:

Social class

Corbyn

Smith

Who wins?

AB

-27

-13

Smith – 14

C1

-29

-13

Smith – 16

C2

-27

-18

Smith – 9

DE

-26

-14

Smith - 12

Take-away: Smith is less unpopular than Corbyn

If there is any victory in these numbers for Smith, it cannot be a happy one.  Sure, he wins almost every head-to-head in the August ComRes poll against his party leader and opponent, but it can only be worrying that someone so new in the mind of the electorate already has such high negatives.  On top of that, while 21% of people had neither a favourable nor unfavourable view of Corbyn and 7% didn’t know, 35% had neither a favourable nor unfavourable view of Smith, with 29% saying they didn’t know.  But facts are facts, and the bottom line in this match-up is that Smith is only half as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn, having a glorious -14 rating compared to the Labour leader’s -28.

But there’s a question we should ask at the end of all this analysis: Does it actually matter at all?  Jeremy Corbyn has been unpopular for a long time, and has been even less popular than his party for some time as well.  He has been accused of his former backers of having no direction, of not being patriotic enough to win an election, and of refusing to communicate with his party in Parliament.  Yet the latest odds put his rival at 15% to win the contest.  In the battle between the PLP and the membership, the latter is winning.  And so it seems to be the case that the candidate who polls best in the country will lose the leadership election in September.

 

 

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