Britain in numbers

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February 16, 2022

Why is Labour’s poll lead over the Tories falling?

By Ben Walker

A number of new polls show that Labour’s lead over the Conservatives is narrowing. Opinium’s most recent survey, conducted on 27-28 January, shows the opposition’s advantage falling from ten points to five points, as does a Survation poll. 

If we delve beneath the headlines into some badly formatted spreadsheets, we are able to gauge what is driving this trend. Labour’s large lead reflected stunning drops in Tory voter loyalty. Around 25 to 30 per cent of those who backed the party in 2019 told pollsters two weeks ago that they weren’t sure they’d vote for them again.

It is among this group that we are now seeing a shift. These waverers are now gradually returning to the Tory fold, pushing the party’s vote share back up. In essence, there are now more Conservatives among declared voters.

At the same time, the number of former Tory supporters saying they would support other parties has drifted down – albeit by a small amount. But in polls the margins matter and this is why Labour’s poll lead has fallen. 

Conversely, there is now a persistent share of Tory voters who say they would vote Labour. The floor appears to be between 6 to 7 per cent, excluding the undecided, while an average of the latest surveys puts it closer to 10 per cent. This, however, is down three points from a fortnight ago and while Keir Starmer’s party has progressed, it is not enough for the party to be truly confident of winning a majority at the next general election.

According to Populus, at the 2010 general election 13 per cent of those who voted Labour in 2005 backed the Tories, while a further 13 per cent defected to the Liberal Democrats. Add in the smaller parties and as much as a third of Tony Blair’s 2005 base were flirting with another party by the end of the 2010 election campaign. If Labour is to inflict a decisive defeat on the Conservatives, it needs to achieve numbers comparable to this. After all, the vast majority of undecided voters return to their former party by polling day.

If all undecided Tory voters ultimately backed the Conservatives, they would be neck and neck with Labour. And if Starmer wants to be sure of winning the next election, he cannot afford to rely on the apathy of strangers. Converts are needed.