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26 February 2021updated 09 Mar 2021 9:45am

Labour’s 2019 voters aren’t so different from the rest of the country. That’s good and bad news

Labour's 2019 supporters don't diverge much from the voters Keir Starmer is targeting, our Redfield & Wilton poll finds. That has costs as well as benefits to Labour. 

By Stephen Bush

The voters Keir Starmer needs to hold on to aren’t so different from the voters he needs to win over. That’s the story of our new poll of Labour’s 2019 voters by Redfield & Wilton*, which is both good and bad for the Labour leader.

Forty-eight per cent of Labour voters in 2019 approve of how Starmer is performing as Labour leader, while 12 per cent disapprove, and the rest don’t know. That compares favourably to Jeremy Corbyn at the time of the 2019 election: 52 per cent of 2017 Labour voters had an unfavourable opinion of him, while 43 per cent had an favourable opinion.

It is a touch better than Starmer’s performance among voters overall, as we would expect, but among both Labour voters and the electorate as a whole, Starmer’s ratings continue to compare favourably to successful opposition leaders of the past.  

Some of these ratings simply reflect the fact that Labour voters are largely party loyalists, which produces the somewhat paradoxical finding that 61 per cent think Labour has provided an effective opposition to the government, and at the same time as 52 per cent of Labour voters think the party should cooperate less with the government and oppose more.

[see also: Boris Johnson’s “have cake, eat cake” strategy is yielding results, leaving Labour to pick up crumbs]

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There is one important difference between Labour voters and the general electorate: perceptions of the change Starmer is bringing to the party and attitudes to Jeremy Corbyn. Our poll shows 48 per cent of Labour voters agree and 23 per cent disagree that Keir Starmer was right to stop Corbyn from being readmitted to the parliamentary party. And while Starmer has a healthy lead when Labour’s 2019 voters are asked who would make the better Labour leader at the present time, at 45 per cent to Corbyn’s 38 per cent, 38 per cent is still a hefty figure. Both are much larger than the equivalent figures among the country at large – in contrast, IpsosMori finds that 48 per cent of all voters say Starmer has changed Labour for the better, with just 4 per cent saying it has got worse. This is a tricky balancing act for Starmer as he seeks to both retain Labour’s 2019 voters and add to his electoral coalition.

But the majority of our poll’s findings show that analyses suggesting a great gap between the voters Labour needs to win and the ones it has already are misplaced: 51 per cent agree with the statement “I am patriotic” and just 19 per cent disagree.

[see also: Why Keir Starmer faces a stark challenge to become prime minister]

That said, not all of the commonalities between the voters Labour retained in 2019 and the ones it is targeting now will make for happy reading in the Labour leader’s office. Labour’s 2019 voters are evenly divided on whether the government has spent too much on economic support during the coronavirus crisis; 58 per cent say the current level of spending is unsustainable, while 29 per cent go so far as to say that the government should prioritise bringing spending under control in next week’s Budget over further support for business. By 34 to 28 per cent, they think Rishi Sunak is better suited than Anneliese Dodds to the role of chancellor.

That underlines that, while Labour’s vulnerability – as Keir Starmer acts to address its existing weaknesses – is overstated, the 2019 election result cannot yet be viewed as the absolute nadir of its fortunes. If it can’t change both the overall economic debate and perceptions of its handling of the economy, the party could still have farther to fall.

*Redfield and Wilton polled 1,499 Labour voters.