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1 July 2021

Exclusive polling: the Labour Party’s base isn’t as “woke” as you think

Labour voters have nuanced views on a range of issues regarding identity politics and so-called culture war issues.

By Ben Walker

When it comes to so-called culture war issues, Labour voters have a nuanced, if not split, set of attitudes.

An exclusive poll of 2019 Labour voters for the New Statesman, conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, reveals just 25 per cent of Labour’s base backs “defunding the police”, compared with 50 per cent who are outright opposed. 

This finding, however, comes with some sharp generational divides.

While 74 per cent of Labour voters over the age of 65 are opposed, just 28 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 say the same.

Younger Labour voters are the most supportive of the idea, with 44 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds saying they agree with defunding the police.

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50 per cent of Labour’s base opposes defunding the police
“To what extent, if at all, do you support or oppose defunding the police?”

Redfield & Wilton poll of 2019 Labour voters, 24 Jun 2021

The poll, taken on 24 June, poses a series of questions to those who voted for the Labour Party at the 2019 general election.

When asked if they’d support analysing society’s problems through the lens of “white privilege”, Labour’s base appeared nonplussed: 44 per cent either declared not to have an answer, or did not know how to answer.

Some 32 per cent voiced support (young people being the biggest advocates, at 51 per cent), while 24 per cent declared themselves opposed.

What these findings expose is not necessarily a Labour Party out of step with its own voters, but rather a base of support more logged-off from culture war issues and, consequently, less supportive of them than their logged-on activists.

Just 29 per cent of Labour’s voters, for instance, say they feel white privilege is a useful term in public discourse, including only half of young Labour supporters.

Labour’s base here displays similar generational divides to the country at large, although that doesn’t tell the whole story. While a majority of Labour’s young voters are positive about “woke” identity politics, they are not overwhelmingly so. And the middle and ageing generations in comparison are not as supportive, if at all – or at least lack a solid opinion.

Despite increasing use of the term in newspapers, only 59 per cent of Labour’s vote know what “woke” means. That doesn’t stop 76 per cent having an opinion on it, however. More than half (52 per cent) of Labour’s base regards “woke practices” as having gone too far, compared with 24 per cent who say otherwise.

Plurality of Labour’s voters believe in analysing society’s problems through the lens of white privilege, but 52% agree “woke practices” have gone too far
Redfield & Wilton survey of 2019 Labour voters

Young Labour voters are also split on the sentiment. A slim plurality (43 per cent) agree that woke practices go too far; 35 per cent disagree.

Figures like these play to other polls on the broader subject of “political correctness”, a term which appears to mean different things to different people. According to Ipsos MORI, the country is in broad agreement that political correctness has gone too far.

On the subject of tearing down the statues of unsavoury figures, the New Statesman’s Redfield & Wilton poll finds Labour voters are supportive in the plurality, but not overwhelmingly so.

Just 44 per cent agree that “statues of certain historical figures [should be] taken down if their views or actions are now considered unacceptable”.

Meanwhile 25 per cent don’t have a view, and 27 per cent are opposed.

Most Labour voters back tearing down unacceptable statues
“Do you agree or disagree with statues of certain historical figures being taken down if their views or actions are now considered unacceptable?”

Source: Redfield & Wilton

Where there is broad agreement among Labour’s base is on the topical theme of footballers taking the knee. The majority – 68 per cent – say footballers should have the right to do so, and 54 per cent say when they do, they would support them. Just 15 per cent say they would oppose, and 31 per cent are either indifferent or unsure.

Majority of Labour’s base support footballers taking the knee
“To what extent, if at all, do you support or oppose footballers ‘taking the knee’ before football matches?”
Source: Redfield & Wilton

These revelations suggest voters are not as motivated by these subjects as some in the government may think. Stirring them up for electoral gain may not lead to the results intended.

When even Labour’s own base isn’t enthused by Americanisms such as “defund the police” or “woke” identities that dominate the social media discussion, it is questionable how far a focus on such matters could influence voters at the ballot box. Equally, Labour figures seeking political capital will struggle to motivate their base by promoting “woke” issues.