Polling the 'Blue Wall'
Voting intention and approvals; 3 constituency polls
Back in April, I wrote about the emergence of a third electoral battleground in British politics, alongside ‘Red Wall’ seats and Scotland: long-held Conservative constituencies which are trending away from them. I argued there were about 41 of these ‘Blue Wall’ seats.
Now for the first time we have a little bit of polling on the overall state of play across this broad swathe of seats, plus - most interesting of all - three specific constituency polls within it.
Opinium recently polled:
1,000 voters living across the 41 constituencies identified in my original blog. We can’t read into this results for individual constituencies but it gives us a general sense of these voters. This was done online.
Specific constituency polls for Wycombe, Chingford & Woodford Green, and Wokingham. These were done via a mix of online and phone. Wycombe and Chingford are now genuinely competitive Con-Lab marginals, and Wokingham a stretch target for the Lib Dems.
Fieldwork was conducted over September, and there’s more info on how this was done by the excellent team at Opinium by Chris Curtis here.
For full transparency, the polling was done for Greenpeace. I helped them design and analyse it in my day job at ECF. Most of the questions were about climate - the constituencies chosen because they have climate sceptic MPs (Steve Baker, IDS, John Redwood) - which I covered here and here.
But Opinium threw in a few standard voting intention type questions and it seemed a shame to let the data gather dust on an internal drive somewhere, especially since reliable constituency polling is so rare. So I wanted to share it.
Anyway, with all that out of the way here are the results:
1. Chingford & Woodford Green
(click for full screen version)
4. Blue Wall (general)
A few brief observations and thoughts on what this tells us:
The Conservative vote has dropped across the Blue Wall generally, and in all 3 constituencies, by more than the national average. There is now an anti-Conservative majority in these areas. Johnson is particularly unpopular in Wycombe and Chingford especially. Bearing in mind that some of the Blue Wall seats have large Tory majorities, his overall -6 position there is also surprising. They are definitely vulnerable to losing two of the seats polled, and more besides.
At the moment, though, they are being rescued by a split in the anti-Conservative vote. Most notably, the Greens are up sharply across all four polls. The Greens have recently been taking seats off the Conservatives at a local level, but in these Blue Wall areas at a Westminster level, they are taking from Labour most, costing them a lead in Chingford and likely Wycombe too.
I’m sure the irony of this keeping two climate sceptic MPs in post isn’t lost on you - and it does beg the question again about progressive alliances and such like, but such a arrangement doesn’t seem likely.
All that said, the Tories would still do well not to antagonise Green or Lib Dem voters - making the prospect of another Tory government so ghastly - they become easier for Labour to squeeze.
The above speaks to a wider problem Labour has here, though. Despite a positive swing in all four polls, it isn’t currently keeping hold of enough of its 2019 voters to press home the advantage. It’s bleeding quite a few out to the Greens and some to the Lib Dems, and that’s muting the benefit of gains among Lib Dems and Tories. A similar thing can be seen in Red Wall polling too. Starmer has strengths but he is clearly struggling with a portion of Labour’s 2019 vote and it’s potentially causing issues here. Indeed Labour now underperforms its national polling in the Blue Wall whereas before they overperformed it.
Labour strategists can take one of two views here. They could be tempted to write off some of this bleeding - and the Green spike - as collateral damage: the unavoidable price to pay for the golden prize of moving the party closer to ex-Labour Conservative voters (more numerous, better distributed). That is certainly rational, but it also really ratchets the pressure on to win a lot more Conservative voters in these seats and in the Red Wall - which at the moment isn’t happening.
Alternatively, they may think that these are mid-term polls, that a lot of that vote can be squeezed come election time and united with target Tory voters. There’s a degree to which that is true: much of its lost 2019 vote will be more engaged voters; more aware of constituency dynamics, more amenable to tactical voting.
But it’s probably dangerous to assume that will happen naturally, at least to the extent needed. Squeezing that vote will likely require taking a few more risks on the economic, maybe even constitutional, side of things, to unify an overall coalition that is otherwise divided on cultural issues.
At the moment it seems mostly unwilling to do that. I won’t go on at length here since LOTO has good people who don’t need more unsolicited armchair wankery. But to give one example: I thought it was a bit surprising Labour didn’t do anything with the recent Pandora papers story, a rare example of an issue - tax avoidance - that both unites its broad coalition and had (momentarily) heightened media salience.
Finally, Lib Dems will probably be disappointed with the overall Blue Wall numbers particularly. There is no better outfit at choosing and digging into and squeezing the right target constituencies and i’m sure they will do that. But the Wokingham poll does bear out a problem I mentioned in my original blog: they face significant headwinds in these seats in a national environment where Labour is taking a big chunk of its vote. It’s going to be more reliant than ever on high levels of tactical voting. Chesham & Amersham did show that to be possible, even if it was a by-election.
For all the understandable focus on Labour-Conservative switchers, basically every election since 2010 has been largely decided by which of the two main parties can best squeeze parties to its respective right and left flank. On this evidence at least, that is a dynamic that continues to be worth keeping an eye on if we want to understand what might happen next time.
You can download the full tables for all 4 polls here. If you’re reading this after the link has expired, DM me on Twitter and i’ll send you them via e-mail.
Opinium didn’t provide a list of ‘Other’ parties but for most of the polls it’s likely to be Reform.
Fascinating for me, for obvious reasons! https://ukandeu.ac.uk/working-paper/breaching-the-blue-wall/