Philip Walker analyses the polling and finds 3 in Every 7 of Labour’s 2015 Voters Backing Brexit Would Not Vote Labour in 2016
In the EU referendum, online and phone polls have persistently been at odds. Last week, YouGov reacted by publishing in full a set of parallel online and phone polling conducted in early May, exposing flaws in the phone sample to defend its own online method. For polling junkies that unprecedented transparency had a further welcome consequence. A full, representative online data set of 1527 people who voted at the 2015 general election came into the public domain, allowing us map their views and link them to a host of other variables, regardless of how YouGov chose to use the data. Wikileaks could not have given us more.
YouGov’s polling data set includes 2015 general election vote, current general election voting intention, and current EU voting intention. That means we can look at the ebb and flow of each individuals’ support for each party since May 2015, and how that relates to their EU voting intention.
For Labour, this evidence should ring alarm bells. Those who voted Labour in 2015 split about 2:1 in favour of Remain over Leave. By early May 2016 that had risen to almost 3:1 for current Labour voters, thanks almost entirely to the desertion of former Labour voters backing Leave. In the sample, 42% of the 137 Leave supporters who voted Labour in 2015 would not back the party today and overall the number of current Labour voters backing Leave is 29% down on 2015.
By contrast, only 21% of the 282 Labour voters from 2015 backing Remain would not vote for the party now. Those supporters of Remain lost to Labour are almost entirely countered by new Labour supporters of Remain, including a significant tranche of former Greens whose switch of allegiance surely reflects Corbyn’s accession rather than his recent conversion to the EU cause.
Britain remains a highly Eurosceptic nation, however many might be enticed into voting for Remain with gritted teeth for fear of something even worse. YouGov found in 2014 that 61% of the electorate would favour substantially less EU integration or complete withdrawal compared to just 25% backing more integration or the status quo. For the working class (C2DE) electorate, those percentages are even more stark: 65% against 17%. Parties that seek to appeal to the working class on a Europhile platform do so at their peril.
The “Labour In” campaign, uncritically and superficially extolling the EU as the best thing since sliced bread, while dismissing out of hand concerns over EU migration, may yet bring a few of the party’s tribal supporters into the Remain camp. The polling evidence though suggests that there will be a price – that of causing more of Labour’s 2015 supporters to question their own tribal allegiance. Rather than reversing Labour’s losses to UKIP in 2015, Labour has seen further losses.
16% of the 137 Leave supporters who still voted Labour in 2015 had by May 2016 switched directly to UKIP, with another 26% switching to undecided, non-voting or other parties. No party should be content to be losing support on this scale, let alone a party in opposition to a government about to encounter the perils of mid-term. As the “Labour In” campaign gets into full swing, it could reinforce those trends by 23rd June. Just as in Scotland in 2014, Labour could end up losing significant electoral support as the price of achieving the referendum result that its MPs desire.
For all their divisions over Europe and their slide in current polling, the Conservatives are in a far better position to recover after the referendum. Conservative retention rates of 2015 supporters are only 68% for Leave and 73% for Remain, but the similarity of these suggests that much of these losses are down to the usual woes of a second year government rather than specifically due to the EU, despite the undoubted pull of UKIP now for some voting Conservative in 2015. For all its acrimony, the open debate between the wings of the party shows that the party wants to keep the door open in future for Conservative supporters of either camp. In addition, if Cameron’s successor is a prominent Leave supporter, many Conservative defectors to UKIP in 2015 and since could return in significant numbers. Do not bet against a general election before 2020 under a new Conservative leader.
There is one final statistic that should give Labour concern. 2015 voters who are undecided or who are currently inclined to no longer vote break heavily towards Leave: 39% for Leave to 28% for Remain. By turning itself into a Europhile party, Labour risks limiting its potential appeal to such swing voters to only the 61% not hostile to the EU. In contrast, by keeping a foot in both camps, the Conservatives can appeal to the full 100%.
Phil Walker will be voting for Brexit and stood as a Labour candidate in Wolverhampton in the 2016 local government elections. He has previously contributed to PB as “Wulfrun Phil”.
You can access Philip’s analysis by clicking here: YouGov Apr 2016 EU Flux Values v2