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15 January 2024

Is Reform UK really gifting Labour a majority?

Polling shows that it’s nonsense for the Tories to believe that supporters of Nigel Farage’s party will come to their rescue.

By Ben Walker

Today’s Telegraph splash features an eye-catching claim: Reform UK is gifting Labour a majority at the next election. But there’s one immediate problem: it’s nonsense. It’s a lazy assertion, not supported by the pollster in question (YouGov) or, indeed, any other analysis of polling and election data.

The origin of the claim is this: if all voters who currently support Reform switched to the Tories then Labour would fall short of a majority. The Conservatives, rather than winning just 169 MPs (as YouGov projects), would win 265 – a performance superior to Labour’s at the 2010 election.

But the assumption that Reform voters can be simply cut and pasted into the Conservative column is a misplaced one, unsupported by other relevant data. YouGov’s own polling shows that just 31 per cent of Reform supporters would back the Conservatives if Nigel Farage’s party did not stand, while 27 per cent would not vote, 23 per cent would seek another party and 12 per cent are unsure. Four per cent and three per cent would back the Lib Dems and Labour, respectively.

Glass-half-full Tories might note that their party is attracting a plurality of transfers from Reform supporters but nowhere near all or even half of them. The More in Common think tank has found a similar rate of transfer to the Tories from Reform supporters but 40 per cent said they would stop voting altogether.

All this feeds into something I’ve been writing about for some time: the idea that Reform supporters alone can deny Labour a majority is delusional when you consider two things. The first is that the Conservatives poll poorly on the issue that matters most to many Reform voters: immigration. The government’s perceived competence in this area has rarely been lower. 

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Reform voters may agree with the anti-immigration sentiments expressed by some Conservative figures, but that agreement rings hollow when Reform supporters are looking to protest against the status quo rather than re-electing the Tories for a fifth time. 

The second factor is that, in local and parliamentary by-elections, Reform’s supporters have ended up more as phantom voters than actual voters. There is some evidence to suggest pollsters have been overestimating Reform’s support because poll samples are often over-saturated with respondents who are “too online” and thus unusually aware – relative to the general public – of Reform’s existence.

More in Common’s finding that a plurality of Reform voters would not turn out if the party was not on the ballot suggests to me that they are voters with: firstly, little willingness to engage beyond their own primary preferences; and secondly, already apathetic about voting. Combine that with the reality that Reform has not been performing as well as the polls have long foretold at by-elections and it’s clear that this is an unreliable bloc. (I’m reminded of the fixation of some leftist commentators on how university students could swing elections.)

For the Conservatives – the government of the day – to believe that they can deny Labour a majority by relying solely on anti-system Reform voters is not an improbable hope: it’s an impossible one.

[See also: Who will pay the price for the Post Office scandal?]

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