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13 January 2022

The situation for the Tories is worse than you think

Voters are angry at Boris Johnson everywhere, but they’re especially so in the marginals that matter.

By Ben Walker

It’s easy to play contrarian in this business. It gets you more attention. But it cannot be denied that the Prime Minister is facing a crisis of public opinion. In fact, the situation for Boris Johnson is far worse than it seems.

The latest YouGov poll gives Labour a ten-point lead over the Tories, and the Tories a 15-point lead over the Lib Dems. At present this is somewhat an outlier, for the Conservatives in this poll are on 28 per cent – an obscenely poor showing for them. Tory voters are not saying that they would switch to Labour, but that they would stay home – a clear comment on the party. Just 47 per cent of the Tory 2019 base now say they would stick with the party if an election were held today. One in three are unsure or would not vote. Just 5 per cent would switch to Labour, 4 per cent to the Lib Dems, and 6 per cent to Reform.

YouGov: more than half the 2019 Tory base have stopped voting Tory
YouGov, 12 Jan 2022 — voting intention of 2019 Conservative voters

In 2019 through to the start of 2021, Johnson had an advantage that few party leaders have ever had: the Conservatives were more popular in the marginals than in the country at large. Even at his apex Johnson wasn’t a well-liked figure nationally, but in the seats Labour eventually lost to the Tories, he was. He was a net positive for his party. So many voters in December 2019 weren’t going to vote for the Conservative Party, they were going to vote for the Boris Johnson party. It was for this reason that, until recently, I was sure no other Tory leader would do as well with these marginals as Boris Johnson could. With his reputation in freefall however, I am now less sure of that theory.

And his reputation is, indeed, in freefall. What should worry the Tories now is that the Johnsonian advantage in the marginal seats is now in tatters. Voters are angry everywhere, but they’re especially so in the marginals that matter. That’s what makes this situation far more worrisome for the Tories than the national polls would imply. In the seats that Labour lost in 2019, the Labour lead is larger than in the national polls. Similarly, Johnson’s favourability numbers are now worse in the marginals than the country at large.

Not only that, but according to Deltapoll, Johnson now polls better in seats held by opposition parties at the last election than seats won by him.

One saving grace for the Tories is that Keir Starmer’s numbers in the marginals are a smidgeon worse than the country at large, too. But if an election were held today, I’d hazard that these so-called Red Wall seats would fall much more easily from the Tory party’s grip than other targets. So disenchanted is the Get Brexit Done coalition built by the Prime Minister that so many now say they would stay at home, allowing Labour’s meagre rise in the polls to become a mega one.

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[See also: If Boris Johnson goes, he would be the shortest-lived prime minister this century]

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