how to understand polls that give Labour an enormous lead – and why the Tories are right to fear a major election loss

When Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced he would not go ahead with his plan to abolish the top tax rate in the UK, he claimed he did it because he did it “he was listening” to the public. While there had been widespread outcry over his plan, set out in his ironically titled “mini-budget” on September 23, reversal is more likely because the Conservative government’s own MPs would block its passage through Parliament by they would vote against.

Part of that resistance was probably a genuine belief that the actions were wrong. But a more likely explanation is that many MPs fear their seat (and control of government and parliament) would be in jeopardy if they go along with the idea.

This fear is justified. Recent polls offer very little hope for the Conservative Party. The mini-budget is just one chapter in a much longer story. As early as July it was clear that the Conservatives’ gloomy perception was unlikely to be improved by anyone – and certainly not by Truss (who is a Boris Johnson ally).

Since then, Labor has enjoyed a successful party conference. All in all, the reversal (or postponement) of the top tax rate cut, while defusing some of the furor, is unlikely to do much for the public.

What the polls say

The headlines of poll results showing who people would vote for if there was an election tomorrow (or their answer to a question about it) show an average 24 percentage point lead for Labour.

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Some individual polls lead Labor by 30 percentage points or more. In truth, these are probably too generous. But even the most pessimistic poll for Labour, the lowest margin (Redfield and Wilton, giving the opposition a 17-point lead) would likely still deliver a landslide election victory.

opinion poll since shows that these big leads aren’t just outliers. It should be noted that this is not a sudden change. Labor has been gaining strength for months since the Partygate scandals.

The difference in the numbers is likely due to how the companies handle “don’t know” voters. Some simply remove them from the results, while others distribute them proportionally to the other parties. It can also be a function of how different pollsters treat the likelihood of an election in the first place. In any case, they all show a clear lead for the opposition.

It gets worse …

Voting intent polls don’t tell the whole story. When we look at the bigger picture, other numbers often look more positive for Conservatives. However, that is changing. And this is a major concern for the government.

The economy, for example, is by far the most important issue for voters, followed by health care, and Labor is far more credited than the Conservatives for achieving both (68% believe Conservatives are bad at managing the economy). In fact, Labor is now trusted more than the Conservatives to implement almost any policy.

Given the Conservatives’ number one campaign promise of economic growth, it’s bad news for them that the Labor Party is seen as better on this issue. Since an economic turnaround is unlikely in the near future, nothing is likely to change.

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Also, there is a lot of evidence in political science that personal economic wealth is an important factor in who people vote for. People don’t often vote for governments that have made or will make them worse off.

The polls surrounding the two leaders are also positive for Labour. Unlike in early September, Keir Starmer has a solid lead over Liz Truss when people are asked who would be the best prime minister – 44% answer he would, versus 15% for them.

Not surprisingly, only 15% of respondents think Truss will do “well” as Prime Minister, and 65% think she will do “poorly” (60% also think Kwarteng will do poorly as Chancellor). The small hope for the Conservatives is that many people are unsure, 37% about who would be the best prime minister and 19% about who they would vote for. This means there is a sizeable constituency yet to be moved.×864.png.
Redfield & Wilton

However, the poll shows that a sizeable minority of those who voted Conservative in 2019 would vote Labor now. While there was previously little movement between the two parties (suggesting the Conservatives were still standing firm), it suggests a migration is now taking place.

The hope of the Conservatives – apart from their prognosis that the policy will make a major difference in people’s lives after a difficult winter – is that there are still many people who do not believe in either party.

Turn back if you want

If Kwarteng had hoped his tax turn would be enough to reverse those trends, he’s likely to be disappointed. It may calm some excitement, but it’s unlikely to move the public. Most don’t think it’s a priority. It also doesn’t solve the main problem — a lack of policies to help people struggling with soaring bills, rents and mortgages.

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The reversal is also likely to undermine Truss’s argument that she is a powerful leader on a mission to change the country. Just a day before the about-face, she said she was fully behind the policy.

MPs and senior Conservative politicians who speak against the budget all contribute to the image (and reality) of a party in disarray. Many will now ask: if this can be overturned through internal rebellion, what is left?

There is a growing consensus among political scientists that trust in politics is at a critical juncture. Trust in politicians and government consists of three key components: the belief that they are acting in your best interest, that they are doing so competently, and that they are doing their job with integrity.

The rise of Liz Truss to Prime Minister was fueled more than anything by a lack of integrity on the part of Boris Johnson, coupled with underlying public concerns about the Conservative Party’s competence.

The new government may have now completed the trifecta by making clear whose interests it serves in response to these crises. Truss practically admitted this herself, saying she’s willing to be “unpopular” to get her way. The reaction to her previous tenure as prime minister suggests at least some success on that front.

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