The 650 | 16th May 2017

Anatomy of a landslide: Where the Tories are gaining and Labour losing


New analysis by Populus reveals the Tories are making real progress in Labour’s heartlands and cannibalising Ukip’s support – while the opposition’s support is concentrated among those less likely to turn out.

Ever since Theresa May called the election, all opinion pollsters have agreed the Conservatives have a clear lead over Labour. While the exact size of the advantage varies – from merely ‘comfortable’ to ‘landslide that redefines British politics’ – all show the Tories on track for a larger majority.

Even in a landslide, however, support is not consistent. All parties attract more support from some groups in society than others. We’ve revisited an approach we used for this website’s predecessor May 2015 to show the relative appeal of the Conservatives and Labour amongst different demographic groups.

In the analysis below, support for parties has been indexed with a score of 100 showing the group is no more or less likely than average to vote for that party.

Scores above 100 indicate a greater level of support, and scores below 100 a lower than average level of support. As an example, a party polling 20 per cent nationally but 25 per cent amongst a particular demographic group would have a score of 125 amongst that cohort.

The Conservatives and Theresa May

Support for the Conservatives is greatest with the group where it matters most: older voters. Conservative supports grows with age, peaking with voters aged 65 and older, who have an index score of 143 – meaning they are around 40 per cent more likely than the country as a whole to support the Conservatives. This matters for the Conservatives because older voters turn out to vote, including at every recent General Election and in last year’s EU Referendum, in much higher numbers than younger voters.

Geographically, there are clear clusters to Conservative support. Support is highest in the South East and the East of England, and also above average across the Midlands and the South West. London, as recent polls have shown, remains difficult ground for the Conservatives.

The north of England is still less likely to support the Conservatives than Britain as a whole. But comparing our new analysis to 2015 reveals real shifts in support. In 2015, the index scores for the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humberside were in the 70s and 80s. They now stand in the 90s. One thing is clear: the party is making real progress in northern England – once no-go territory.

The socio-economic breakdown of Tory support is as the layman would expect. Support over-indexes with socio-economic group AB, short-hand for professionals and managers, generally on higher incomes, and under-indexes with socio-economic group DE – those in lower-skilled manual roles or dependent on state financial support.

Labour and Jeremy Corbyn

The existence of the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Ukip and the nationalists means Labour’s support is not the exact reverse of the Conservatives. But the surprising return of two-party politics means there is something of a mirror when it comes to Labour and Conservative support.

Younger voters are much more likely to support Labour than the country as a whole. Those aged 18-24 are around 75 per cent more likely to plan to vote Labour, and those aged 25-34 are about 50 per cent more likely. Unfortunately for Corbyn, though, younger voters stubbornly refuse to turn out in large enough numbers. Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, last year’s Remain campaign, and Ed Miliband’s attempt to reach Downing Street in 2015 were all derailed by the unreliability of younger supporters.

Regionally, Labour remains (relatively) strong in its traditional northern heartlands. And both Wales, where the party unexpectedly performed better in May’s local elections than elsewhere, and London, where it is a year since Sadiq Khan’s comfortable mayoral victory, over-index on support for Labour.

Scotland, however, remains stubbornly hostile ground. Support lags far behind that seen in England and Wales. Indeed, Labour has lost rather than gained support in Scotland since the last General Election. Before the last election, Scotland had an index score of 84 – already less likely to support Labour than the rest of Britain. But this has now fallen still further to 65 as both the SNP and Ruth Davidson’s resurgent Scottish Conservatives eat into Labour support.

Composition of Party Support

There are similarities in the composition of support for both the Conservatives and Labour. Around three quarters of both parties 2017 support comes from those who voted for them in 2015. Conventional swing from one main party to another is relatively small, although the Conservatives are gaining more of Labour’s supporters than Labour is from the Conservatives.

The major difference is in who is benefiting from the collapse in Ukip support. Around one-in-ten of those planning to vote Conservative in June voted for Ukip at the last General Election, making this influx of former Ukip supporters an important part of the Conservatives’ growing popularity. In contrast, Labour are gaining few former Ukip supporters.

Worryingly for Labour, a bigger proportion of their supporters say they didn’t vote in 2015 or in 2016’s EU referendum. Voting is a habit – and those who haven’t done so in the past are unlikely to do so in June.

Laurence Stellings is director of Populus.