There are two very different elements to polling of the conservative leadership race: polling of Conservative party members – used for predicting who is going to win, and polling of the general public, which is generally being used to argue about the electoral appeal of the different candidates.

Let’s take members polling first. The only professionally conducted polls of party members are done by YouGov, with the most recent conducted last month just before May’s resignation. It found Boris Johnson was the first choice for members on 39%. More importantly the poll asked party members to rank candidates in order of preference, allowing YouGov to work out head to head figures for each potential pair of candidates. Suffice to say, Boris Johnson won them all. The closest pairing was Johnson vs Raab on 59%-41% though given these two are both appealing to the brexiteer elements of the parliamentary Tory party that seems an unlikely run off. The more plausible contests of Johnson v Gove, Johnson v Hunt or Johnson v Javid would all be clear victories for Johnson. In the event Johnson does not get through, Dominic Raab also beats the remaining candidates, though by less convincing margins. As things stood in May, whichever of the leading “hard Brexit” candidates, Johnson or Raab, reached the final two would win.

It is worth remembering that data is from back in May, so it is possible that opinion has changed already. Certainly there is still time for opinion to change in the future. The only other data we have on party members is from ConservativeHome’s surveys of their mailing list of party members. I think they last did paired run-offs in April, but they’ve asked about members’ preferred leader more recently and found Johnson retaining a strong lead.

Perhaps more open to interpretation are the polls of the general public, especially since they are often used to make the case for various candidates in terms of their electoral appeal. Polls about leadership candidates are often very much exercises in name recognition – the fact is that many of the people being asked about are relatively obscure figures who most people who are not political anoraks know little about. If you ask the public whether Mark Harper would make a good or bad Prime Minister then the overwhelming majority of people obviously say they don’t know who Mark Harper is (most of those who do answer the question are Labour and Lib Dem supporters giving negative answers, presumably on the basis that they feel any Tory would be a bad Prime Minister!)

Any attempt to gauge public attitudes towards the candidates needs to be viewed through this prism. Here, for example, are the most recent YouGov figures on if people will make good or bad Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is one of the best known politicians in the country, so has the highest proportion thinking he will make a good Prime Minister (26%). However, he also has the highest proportion thinking he would be a bad Prime Minister (53%). Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt are also familiar to most people, though both have proportionately more negative ratings than Johnson (Gove 15% good, 51% bad; Hunt 15% good, 46% bad). After that recognition falls away – 55% of people gave an opinion about Sajid Javid (18% good, 37% bad), 42% Dominic Raab (14% good, 28% bad) and so on.

Some have used this to argue the lesser known candidates are more popular candidates on the basis of their net figures, or the proportion of those who know who they are who give them a positive rating. For example, in the YouGov poll of those who expressed an opinion about Rory Stewart over 40% were positive… but that’s because over 70% of people didn’t have an opinion. There is no guarantee that the opinions of the 29% who did are a reflection of what the rest of the country might think were they to form an opinion of him (though in their defence, it may be easier to start with a blank slate and convert people who have no opinion than change the views of those who have already formed negative perceptions of the better known candidates). On the subject of Rory Stewart, it should be noted that he is the only candidate who has really improved his ratings substantially during the campaign, albeit from an almost non-existent base. In May 5% thought he would make a good PM, by last week that had risen to 12%. On the other hand, the criticism that he is the candidate popular amongst people who aren’t Conservative does seem to have some truth to it – his best ratings are amongst Labour and Liberal Democrat voters.

That brings us more directly to the issue of the electoral impact; which candidate would do better at winning over voters at a general election? I should begin by adding a caveat here – people are not necessarily good judges of these matters. They may have an idea of whether they like Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, but they don’t know the policies they are campaigning on, how the media are reporting them, whether the party has united behind them and so on. We are asking people to imagine a hypothetical situation when they really don’t have much to go on. In cases where people don’t even know much about the candidates themselves, like Matt Hancock or Rory Stewart, I don’t think there’s any real point in even asking the polling question. Respondents simply don’t know enough to judge.

For the better known candidates, it can at least tell us something and, when it is asked, there is a clear pattern. This YouGov poll for Lord Bell found the Conservative party on 29% under Boris Johnson, 24% under Dominic Raab, 21% under Hunt, 20% under Gove and 22% under Javid. Johnson clearly does better – but it appears to be a straight forward transfer of support directly from the Brexit party, who drop to 13%. There is a similar but smaller effect from Dominic Raab becoming leader. The fairly obvious interpretation is that the impact we’re seeing here is not Johnson or Raab’s magnetic personalities, but Brexit party voters returning to the Conservative party if the the new leader is someone they trust to deliver a genuine Brexit. That’s certainly something I would expect to happen… but it does also mean that such support would likely be conditional upon the new leader actually delivering Brexit in a timely fashion (and, one assumes, since it would be happening on their watch, delivering a Brexit in a way that isn’t a total disaster).

My advice for people looking for polling clues to future Tory performance under different leaders is that the impact of the candidates’ personalities may in reality be dwarfed by the impact of whether or not they actually deliver something that their potential voters perceive as a successful Brexit.

867 Responses to “What the polling so far says about the Tory leadership race”

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  1. Colin

    I read your post re the YouGov poll. It does seem on the face of it a sign of a change in British politics.
    However haven’t we seen this before with a Farage’s last incarnation UKIP, which promised to transform British politics but delivered nothing of any value.

    As to the present Conservative race it does seem it’s going to be a contest between Johnson and Hunt personally I think Hunt would be by far the better candidate but from speaking to my former colleagues at least in Dorset, Johnson at the moment is the firm favourite of the membership ,but it’s not quite a shoe in as some have nagging doubts about his fitness for MP.
    So it would be no great surprise to some of us if Hunt squeezes in particularly if Johnson manages to put his foot in it during the election race.

    As far as I can see the only upside of a Johnson Government is that he is likely to draw support away from the brexit party and back to the Conservative’s if for no other reason than the media will be fixated on him should he win rather than Farage who relies almost exclusively on media coverage to promote his single issue party.

    The feeling amongst my old Conservative association in Dorset is that if Johnson can recover the parties lead over Labour which is possible given that the Labour Party thanks in main to the Marx brothers failure to convince the voting public that the old recycled Marxist/Socialism is the way forward will find it difficult to recover the drift from the youth voter to the Lib/dems.

    Imo Johnson will make an attempt to to change EU policy which is highly likely to fail and rather than go for no deal and fail in HoC he will call a GE .
    Certainly my old association is in the business of fund raising at the moment with a view to a GE before the October deadline.

  2. @Prof Howard


    Well done for spotting that violation of the Comments Policy. ”

    I commend you, sir, as an absolute master of irony. As the art of irony goes, what you’ve just said here is pure genius!


  3. Jim Jam
    What a pity Gordon Brpwn embraced the service sector and banking deregulstion so much that the crash affected us much worse than many other countries..

    No more boom and bust

  4. @Trevs – you do seem rather touchy today!

    I think you also failed to properly read my original post – the one where I said – “…I … can’t be bothered to scroll back and check, …….It might even be worth doing a quick search of your previous pronouncements on ……”

    Never said I was going to do it!

    It remains, nonetheless, very entertaining to see how you’ve changed your tune, and remarkably easy to give you a jokey little prod and watch as you wind up that time machine/chaff/excuses factory. Very predictable.


    @”Well done for spotting that violation of the Comments Policy”

    You didn’t read my post old chap.

    What I “spotted” was your failure to submit a post saying Jim Jam’s comment was a breach of comments policy. As I have said previously I do not think your self appointed role as mediator here carries the credibility of objectivity , balance & political neutrality.

    As for Jim Jam, I never get upset at anything he writes, which is always measured & informed. We differ politically though & when I have felt he crossed a line , he always responds like the gentleman I believe him to be.

  6. Re. Brecon and Radnor

    People are correct that recall petitions cannot be commented on.

    However i am sure the Lib Dems have a good idea of how many people have signed it, since canvassing and signing people up to postal votes is allowed. We will all know very soon

  7. Pete B

    “No-one outside Scotland even noticed or cared that the weather map was somehow skewed several years ago.”

    You are wrong. The BBC received many complaints from the North of England as well – for the same reasons as the complaints from Scotland.

  8. Andrew,

    I am happy to accept the vote for leave was a consequence of failures by all 3 major UK parties and have said so. I am seeking to highlight an apparent desire to airbrush 5 years of enabling austerity which boosted the voted for Leave in left behind communities.

    Leavers may well argue that as UK membership of the EU was fundamentally flawed anyhow the long term trajectory was toward Brexit but that is a different point.

  9. TURK


    I was going to add a question to my post-is this a temporary aberation or a permanent shift? But since no one can know the answer I didn’t bother.

    I am interested in your feel for members’ attitudes to Johnson. Mathew Parris said something similar in The Times las week-ie it is the MPs who are looking for someone to save their seats regardless-whereas the membership may be more circumspect.

    I share your preference for Hunt-but with reservations. I would be happy with a punt on Javid too.

    Andrew Gilligan in today’s ST says ( from personal experience) that Johnson can survive on his abilities as a Communicator & Persuader-PROVIDED he appoints a team who are across the detail & he leaves them to it. AG claims this was how he operated as Mayor. We will see.

    I agree more & more with you about BJ’s next move after failing with Brussels. I think he actually stated in terms just the other day -prepare for a GE. I can only presume he has supreme confidence that he can beat JC.

    I have to admit that he is probably the one best equipped to articulate the case against JC/JMcD.But I just don’t know if that old magic is still there on the national stage. There is a big anti “Eton Toff” thing amongst the younger generation in my own family.

    Its all a bit like being on a tightrope isn’t it ?

  10. JIM JAM


    “Left Behind” itis probably has many component parts. Does any politician really understand it?

  11. @ SAM – How many times have you posted that trade blog comment? Is it 5? More?

    How many of those times did I mention “risk based assessment”, “biosecurity zones”, “material hardening”, “buying time” and “French Tractor”, etc..

    Pretty sure I pointed you to the UK “No Deal” plans more than once as well.

    @ HIRETON – I suggest you reread the posts (again) where I clearly stated the timing aspects (more than once!).

    @ ALEC – “It remains, nonetheless, very entertaining to see how you’ve changed your tune”

    Except of course that YOU seem unable to find a single post to support YOUR opinion that I have.

    :-) :-) :-) :-) (yep, you got to 4, well done)

    PS All we need is DANNY to respond to the “WHY were Greece..” and PTRP that remind us that everything is just like the Iraq War and we’ll have 5 for 5 “Groundhogs” today ;)

  12. Colin,

    I think that is the point of Boris.
    He’s not a Magician he’s more Debbie Magee, he prances about as a distraction while the trick is being performed.

    That’s fine if he’s on stage with Derran Brown, but looking at the Tories right now the likelihood is Tommy Cooper!


  13. They’ll fix the Economy; “Just Like that!”
    Will we like it…”Not a Lot!”


  14. @ COLIN – I’m concerned about Boris as well, he’s probably concerned about himself!

    Hence the interest has moved on to ensuring he builds the best team around him (ie folks want the London Mayor version not the F.Sec version) and minimising the damage of “blue on blue” attacks in the next month.

    Re: “Left Behind” (regions). That could be measured in many ways. ONS keep historic data on employment, growth, etc down to NUTS3 levels but that will miss the flexibility aspects in UK labour market so probably want to add in shifts in population as well. House prices, crime rates, etc. Lots of objective measures available but the more measures you bring in the more risk of objections you bring up!

    I haven’t seen any decent analysis trying to “map” UK on a scale of “Left Behind” but an objective measure should probably have a “traffic light” system that looks at a range of measures and if your “red” or “amber” in most categories then you’re “left behind”

    This is important as we will drop out of ERDF and very little info on what we intend to do to replace/improve on that after MFF expires in Dec’20. Hopefully a more united cabinet can agree a “Regional Plan” that replaces and improves upon ERDF and isn’t just some cobbled together “bung” operation that failed to win the targeted LAB MPs’ support

    We need to move from the “left behind” meaningless label and see some a post Brexit (2021+) “Regional Plan”

    The “No Deal” plan[1] only goes to 2020 and Deal/No Deal we’ll need something in place and once Hammond is gone then I hope this is one of “easier” policy areas that the new cabinet can agree on.

    A “sector plan” for “Left Behind” (industries) will be trickier for sure and my idea to intertwine the two might backfire as making it more confrontational will increase risk of disagreement and delay. A “piece meal” approach to Industrial Policy is not ideal but knock out a few singles then once warmed up go for the big six!


  15. TW

    @”he’s probably concerned about himself!”

    If I believed that I would be less concerned-but I don’t.I think there is a Walter Mitty inside him.

    Still-as you say- we have probably moved on to ensuring he builds the best team around him.

    If the Tories get this wrong , then to quote Raab, they are “toast”.

    Actually DR was talking about failing to leave on 31 October.

    Which does beg the question-if Turk’s view is correct & BJ will call a GE rather than No Deal-what Brexit Policy stance is he going to the country with ?

  16. @ JJ – “I am seeking to highlight an apparent desire to airbrush 5 years of enabling austerity which boosted the voted for Leave in left behind communities”

    Was that a case of “correlation” more than “causation” though?

    We have B4B’s huge survey and MRP map plus YG polling to show LAB-Leavers and LAB-Leave seats are having a bit of “Br-Regret” but pinning “causation” on those findings is a bit tenuous as well.

    I’m very aware folks thought the Boris bus made a difference, but did it? Yet to see any “evidence” to support that claim. Austerity was a choice for UK (as we’re not in EZ) and we do have polling that shows folks were OK with it to begin with but from 2013ish they started to think it was enough and clearly by GE’17 folks had enough of austerity.

    If the “Boris bus” did make a difference then the promise to spend more than 350million per week on NHS certainly had zero cut-through (although Hammond did slip a turd in that punchbowl)

    So, it is also plausible that a lot of older LAB voters (more prevalent in “left behind” seats) have been seen that the EU project has “failed” (eg what happened to the PIGS) and decided they wanted out and although they are more likely to be having some “Br-Regret” they generally still feel the same way.

    Perhaps the reason for some “doubt” in those seats is that May’s Brexit was ne0liberal. Trying to keep UK tied too closely to EU would avoid taking back control of areas like State Aid rules etc (WTO being more “generous” than EU in that regard).

    NB If anyone doubts the polling info and requests links to above polling claims then let me know. Happy to back-up my posts with sources but above should not be confrontational so I’m not expecting any challenge on those points.

  17. Peter
    “He’s not a Magician he’s more Debbie Magee, he prances about as a distraction while the trick is being performed.”

    Very good


    Fair enough, though I only do it to remind everyone of the rules, which I think are valuable to adhere to. I am not by nature very partisan I think. I will try to use “remain” people for the next few reminders.

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