Politics is so fast-moving that there is rarely a dull time for polling, but the last few weeks have been busier than most pollsters would have foreseen. Some significant by-election results and the resignation of the Prime Minister have provided ample opportunity for fascinating surveys of both public opinion and the views of the Conservative Party and its members.
We hosted a lunchtime discussion with Chris Curtis, Head of Political Polling at Opinium last week, to get the inside track on all this fascinating political activity. Here’s five things that we learned.
In the battle of Sunak vs Truss, ‘electability’ will be the biggest hurdle for the candidates to overcome. Which candidate is more charismatic, and perceived to be more capable of leading both the Government and country?
Opinium has been speaking to thousands of poll participants up and down the country, and the consensus is that Rishi Sunak is by far the most ‘electable’ candidate of the two. There is no clear reason why this is the case, but the former Chancellor sits firmly in front of Liz Truss, who poll participants just cannot see as Prime Minister.
Alongside electability, the economy will be the main battleground for the leadership candidates.
In the fight between Sunak’s ‘steady as it goes’ approach and Truss’s belief that ‘the more we cut, the better’, the view is that Sunak’s ideology will prevail, with most Conservative members backing the more traditionally Tory economic vision.
There are genuine concerns around the amounts of money borrowed throughout the pandemic, and Conservative members are keen to begin repaying the debts, despite the growing cost-of-living crisis.
Further dividing lines can be drawn between Sunak and Truss over Brexit. In particular, Truss’s history as part of the ‘remain’ campaign, and her brief dalliance with the Liberal Democrats continues to be a sticking point.
But there is also the sense that Brexit will not play as big a role in the campaign as some may expect. Instead, economic ideology will prevail as the true dividing line. The threat of spiralling levels of national debt and inflation caused by Truss’ immediate tax cuts seem to be far more alarming than her anti-Brexit past.
The return of Boris Johnson?
Boris Johnson’s sudden departure as Prime Minister has left many wondering whether he might consider a speedy return to front-line politics. . A ‘celebrity’ prime minister, Johnson had the key to electability, his charisma and likeability earning him two terms as Mayor of London.
Whilst speculation of a Boris comeback is rife on social media, the polls would suggest that he is no longer such an attractive figure to the general public. In fact, according to the polls, more people currently like Jeremy Corbyn than they do Johnson.
And even in comparison to less political divisive figures, Boris Johnson no longer measures up: he is less popular in the polls now than Theresa May was when he initially took over from her as Prime Minister in 2019.
What next for Labour?
With the Conservative Party brand badly damaged by Boris Johnson’s tenure as PM, the next question is whether the party will be able to hold onto its leadership, whether under Sunak or Truss
Whilst neither candidate ensures a re-brand, there is a view that Sunak’s leadership will fare far better in a general election, primarily due to his more ‘electable’ persona and less radical economic ideology. In contrast, Truss’s premiership could easily pave the way for Labour to emerge as election favourites.
As for the Labour Party itself, Chris believes that, whilst the party may be currently ahead in the economy, its visions and ideologies rely on Conservative weakness.
If Sunak is to be elected, this weakness could turn into a strength, leaving Labour vulnerable in a time of post-pandemic uncertainty and cost-of-living crisis, when economic policy will be at the forefront of voters’ minds.