More Leave voters than Remainers have swung from the Tories to Labour since the last election, according to a major polling project that suggests Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has made some early progress in bridging the Brexit divide.
A large 7,000-strong poll, designed to examine the political changes that have taken place since Labour’s disastrous result, found that the party was showing signs of winning over some of those who backed the Tories last year.
The Tories won support from 70% of those who voted Leave and 20% of Remain voters at the 2019 election. Labour won 16% of Leave voters and 49% of Remain voters. The latest polling found that the Tories now have the support of 63% of those who voted Leave and 21% of Remain voters. Labour is backed by 20% of Leave voters and 53% of Remain voters.
It represents a swing to Labour from the Tories among Leave voters of 5.5 points. The swing among Remainers was just 1.5 points. The pollsters said that a significant part of the swing was down to Leave voters turning against the Tories, now saying they did not now know who they would vote for. Some 18% of Conservative Leave voters now say they do not know how they will vote.
Meanwhile, the net movement of Conservative voters to Labour since the election is roughly the same as the net movement of Green and Lib Dem voters to Labour – about 500,000 voters in each group. It challenges suggestions that Starmer has largely boosted Labour’s vote share by winning Lib Dem and Green voters.
The study, launched as part of a new Opinium ebook on the last election, comes with Labour poised to back any Brexit deal that is agreed with the EU. The move is causing unease at all levels of the party. Starmer has suggested he will order his MPs to back a deal in the “national interest”, making clear it is preferable to a no-deal outcome.
Chris Curtis, the senior research manager at Opinium, said: “This data will be particularly important for Labour to consider when deciding how to vote on a potential Brexit deal. The data shows that there are lots of Leave voters who are going off the Conservative party, but haven’t yet been won over by Labour. The party will want to avoid alienating them with the decision it makes.”
Several figures in the shadow cabinet, the unions and prominent backbenchers want the party to abstain in a Brexit deal vote, concerned that backing a deal will prevent Labour from criticising it in the future – while abstaining will not stop its passage.
However, Starmer’s team has been holding meetings with party figures for weeks in an attempt to prepare the ground for voting in favour of a deal. There is also a feeling among Starmer’s team that Remain voters are not as focused on Brexit as they once were, following the last election.
The Opinium study found that Starmer is doing better among Leave voters than the Labour party as a whole, suggesting that he may have the ability to reach some more Tory voters who are increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the party, but have yet to make the jump to Labour. Starmer’s approval rating among Leave voters was -5, with 27% approving of him and 32% disapproving.
A huge lead for the Tories among older voters at the last election is also showing evidence of closing. The Conservatives had a 38-point lead among those aged 65 and over. It remains high, but has closed to 26 points.
Labour has a marginal lead among working-class voters, following suggestions it was behind among that group at the election. It is now backed by 40% of so-called “C2DE” voters, compared with 38% for the Tories. Meanwhile, the Tories lead among the more affluent voters. It leads 42% to 38% among “ABC1” voters. The gender gap that emerged at the last election persists. The Tories lead 43% to 35% among men, while Labour leads 41% to 38% among women.
Curtis said: “Labour’s vote share has increased under the leadership of Keir Starmer, with the party now just two points behind the Conservatives. But what is more interesting are the trends underlying the swing back to the party. Labour is seeing greater swings towards them among older voters and Leave voters, the key groups they have struggled with in recent years. This indicates that some of the major divides that have haunted our politics for the past few years might be starting to fade.
“A key element seems to be the handling of the pandemic, with many Leave voters who backed the Tories last year thinking the government has done a bad job. The party is therefore only holding on to 70% of the Leave voters who backed them, as opposed to 78% of their Remain voters.”
Opinium polled about 7,000 people online between 27 November and 8 December.