A new Harris poll in the Financial Times (full tables here) gives an interesting look at the state of Labour’s core vote.

Harris found 13% of people who said they had always voted for the Labour party. While this sounds low for the party’s absolute core vote, remember that turnout at the last election was 62%, so if all that 13% always vote (a dubious assumption in itself) we are talking about roughly a fifth of actual voters. Beyond that 13% said they had often voted Labour and 20% said they had sometimes voted Labour. 37% of respondents had never voted Labour and 17% said they had never voted at all.

Compared to their usual voting behaviour, Harris then asked how likely people were to vote Labour at the next election. Unsurprisingly those 20% of “sometime” Labour voters and the 37% who never vote Labour haven’t become any more likely to back them. The interesting bit is moving beyond that into Labour’s core vote. Of ‘often’ Labour voters, 51% said they were less likely to vote Labour now, of their hardcode ‘always’ Labour voters, 26% were less likely to vote Labour.

It’s important not to over-egg this – only 3% of hardcore Labour voters said there was no way they would vote Labour at the next election. The poll shows core Labour voters saying they are less likely to back Labour, not definitely deciding to abandon it. Still, it is a sign that even part of the core vote of the government is getting a bit shakey.

The rest of the poll contained various comparative questions on the economic situation in the five countries Harris do their regular poll in. The final question did catch my eye though. Harris asked people which country posed the greatest threat to global stability. The fieldwork was done between the 30th July and 12th August, so the majority of it would have been completed before the war in South Ossetia.

We’ve seen polls like this before so it’s no longer a surprise to find that more people in Britain think that the USA (34%) is the biggest threat to world stability than do places like Iran (13%), China (15%) or Russia (7%). What was more surprising was that when compared to other European countries, the UK is more anti-American than France, Italy and Germany in all of which people see China as more of a threat than the USA. Spain is the only other country where people see the USA as the biggest threat to stability.


34 Responses to “The state of Labour’s core vote”

  1. I think core vote is a term used in a rather loaded way.

    It seems that these days (and I mean from about 20 years ago onwards when governments are in trouble) it is almost impossible to hold any by-election. I bet a lot of people vote against their party even though in all other circumstances they might be core.

    Core in the true sense is the irreduceable minimum, but I don’t think either party quite reached that in 1983 or 1997/2001.

    My best advice to Labour is to motivate it’s core vote to turn out better. I’m a Tory supporter, and not saying that cynically – but when differential turnout matters, this is probably their best hope now to make it a more respectable loss.

    Looking back at the obvious, it’s clear Labour made a huge huge error with the 10p.
    It was at that point we went up from 6 or 7 points to 20 points.

  2. JJB
    You’re probably right about the 10p (I’d add the “non-election”, and the decision to alienate the whole of the media apart from Andrew Marr (hardly his best mate anyway) at the same time.

    I find it interesting that the 10p rate took so long to hit home as a problem – the fact of it was out there for well over a year before the public realised. Myself, I saw it immediately because I’m interested in marginal tax rates(sad git!)but assumed that the losers would be more than compensated in the tax credits.

    As a probable Labour voter next time (though not “core” in the terms of reference above), I’m rather hoping the Conservatives IHT and stamp duty tax will be recognised as just as unfair after a similar time lag.

  3. Fascinating findings.

    Only 14% in UK think their Government has “little or no” responsibility for the economic downturn.

    And 71% in UK think their Government has handled the economy ” Badly or Terribly”

    But only 23% say those factors will change the way they vote at the next GE.

    One wonders therefore why GB thinks the state of the economy is the main reason for his poor Polls.

    It would appear on the basis of this Poll, that GB’s assumed expectation of improved electoral chances after an upturn, are as misconceived as his belief that the downturn is the main reason for his unpopularity.

  4. The result of the Labour core vote question is highly misleading.

    ‘Always votes for Labour’ also encompasses ‘Only votes for Labour, but doesn’t always vote’.

    It is the section of silent dissenters who will prove decisive, as differential turnout in different areas will prove to add an additional factor of variability for the incumbent selection of Labour MPs at the next GE.

    But this is just another phase in the demographic evolution of an established party as it decides its’ interests lie in abandoning the underclass it has created.

  5. Colin – remember, 17% of people say they’ve never voted. Some of that will be due to youth, but some are just people who never vote. The economy hasn’t changed their opinion. A significant proportion of people were voting against Labour before the economy went wrong, it won’t have changed their vote either (or at least, it can’t have turned them against Labour). A significant proportion of people would still vote Labour, presumably it hasn’t changed their vote.

    Last summer Labour had double point leads, now the Conservatives have a lead of about 20 or so. In theory a relatively small chunk of people need to move for that to happen. To go from a position of PARTYA 40% PARTYB 60% to PARTYA 60% PARTYB 40% only 20% of people have to change their mind, 80% of people can stand still.

    The economy is obviously not the sole reason for Labour’s poll ratings (and obviously poll movements are more complex than people switching straight from one party to the other), but technically 23% of people changing their opinion could easily account for the switch we’ve seen!

  6. Thank you Anthony.

    I sometimes wonder if it is possible for ordinary mortals to read Polls with any degree of accuracy !

  7. Nice to read an absolutely unbiased forum…..err!

  8. Labour’s ultimate demise is not yet upon us, but it’s not at all well. Blair’s arrival as a winner postponed a debate which has yet to happen. Elections since Thatcher’s arrival prove that Labour as a ‘socialist’ party is unelectable. Blair’s trick was to pretend that it was a ‘3rd way’, although it was really just the same old ‘tax, tax, borrow, borrow, borrow, and spend, spend, spend, spend’ as ever. The debate which never happened is ‘what is labour for?’ given that socialism has been discredited as a political philosophy throughout the western world. Labour has never come to terms with this fact. After the (assumed) shattering defeat at the polls, they have to decide to change, or face oblivion by a 1000 cuts.

  9. I don’t think it was even the “non-election” – going to Iraq during the Tory conference was just below the belt.

  10. TimB “They have to change” -to what? It has always seemed strange that, when Labour is unpopular and the voters clearly disillusioned with socialist policies, the solution from the left is to move further left. If their proposals are clearly going to make matters worse, where can Labour go next? A no-win situation,surely.

  11. Collin:
    I think that is their dilemma: if they stay where they are in the political spectrum, they will slowly wither away. If they go to the left they will disappear more quickly. If they move to the right they then gamble that by picking up enough centrists, uncommitted and floating voters they become a force again. That may or may not work. What happens to the ‘lifetime’ labour voter, the trade unions, the core voters – who knows. What alternatives are out there – the LibDems? Communists?

    When I said they HAVE to change I suppose I was technically incorrect. No change is an option. But it leads to a slow oblivion. Their choice is to betray their founding principles to survive, suffer slow degradation like the Liberals after 1910, or go further left and achieve a faster oblivion.

    As you said, when socialism fails – as it inevitably does – the reaction from the left is that the policies weren’t socialist enough.

    At present watching the Labour party’s descent is like a slow motion train wreck that we all watch with a kind of horrified fascination, knowing how it will all end.

  12. Collin and TimB – The abolition of the 10p rate wasn’t a socialist policy, and nor were Brown’s media mishaps anything to do with socialist policies.

    The minimum wage, and huge investment in public services are probably the “socialist policies” to which you refer. Sorry, but I don’t detect a public change of mind about either of those policies.

    “We’d all be a bit better off if Brown had paid off national debt instead of spending” seems to be the argument.

    Not much better off – we’d still have suffered from the actions of the bonus-driven gamblers in the banks – starting with the US sub-prime mortgage peddlers. Were they socialists?

    Are the commodity price rises due to socialism?

    Labour does have to change – it has to BE more honest and open about what it does and what it stands for. It’s lost the empathy of the electorate, but it still has the chance to win the argument and change public perception.

  13. John tt,

    Nice to see you are looking at marginal-rates of taxation; motivation is a good thing. Can’t understand why you thought tax-credits would have compensated any low-earner loses: what value is added by building more bureaucracy into the system?

    Northern Rock will be Labour’s Black-Tuesday equivalent. Even the actual tax-losses are moving closer together (at about £2billion). Labour’s vote will react as the Tory vote did in 1997. Noone believes Labour can relaunch itself, not least after eleven years of trying.

    However Labour’s core support is two-thirds of that demonstrated by the Tories. If Scotland gets the courage – which I doubt – to vote for independence we will need to see a reorganisation of the left in this [English] country.

  14. ” “We’d all be a bit better off if Brown had paid off national debt instead of spending” seems to be the argument. ”

    For what it’s worth, he did – primarily through the auction of of the 3G spectrum to telecoms operators in 2000 which he used to pay off £22bn from the national debt. It was around 50% of GDP in 1997, and fell to around 37% in 2002 before rising again to 43.8% at the end of 2007.

    The government’s lack of room to maneouvre on spending now isn’t so much that the level of existing debt which is still below what they started with, it’s the size of the deficit in current spending.

    That said, the technical arguments are all largely irrelevant to the public perception. The electoral effect is probably not much more complicated than “economy in mess => blame government”.

  15. john tt

    “Labour does have to change – it has to BE more honest and open about what it does and what it stands for. It’s lost the empathy of the electorate, but it still has the chance to win the argument and change public perception.”

    john we have had-and will continue to have our differences.However , your unswerving belief in socialist government & your willingness to argue for it is admirable.

    However I feel that your list of “what Labour has to be” omits one very important factor-competent.

    With the best will in the world-and even if I concede that socialist governance will actually deliver the objectives it espouses ;which I don’t- any administration which exhibits continued managerial incompetence will lose the “empathy” of the electorate.

    Let me give you one example-your much loved ” huge investment in public services “-a “socialist policy” which you believe the public supports.

    The TPA researched 305 public sector projects in july 2007 across which an average 34% overspend was recorded-amounting to £23 billion ( yes billion)

    The public do support spending on public services-but they lose patience with large scale waste of their taxes in it’s execution.

    The big question for me is whether the incompetencies which flow almost daily from this administration are merely indicative of the failings of this bunch of ministers-or something inherant in the top down centralised control which socialist governance seems to prefer.

  16. Thanks Anthony – I had interpreted the Tory line “should have fixed the roof before the storm” as “should have paid off debt” rather than “should have built up a current account surplus”. Too technical for me! I’m additionally confused by the seemingly inconsistent line that surpluses should not be built up, but used in tax cuts during upswings.

    Fluffy, tax credits are indeed subject to bureaucarcy, but they are not beurocracy themselves. They target the least well off so that tax reductions help them without disproportionately helping the most well-off. That’s why I assumed they would be compensated.

    Lots of people think the Labour Party can re-launch itself, you just don’t pay any attention to them.

  17. I didn’t mean to say “beurocracy” but I think I might have coined a word you’ll find useful, Fluffy!

  18. A general move to the left would be a disaster for Labour.
    However, in an age of differential turnout, a few specific things to get their core vote to turn out better probably is what they need, if the floating voters are largely (although not definitely of course) a lost cause – as they tend to be anyway after a government has been in power for a longish stretch.

  19. “A general move to the left would be a disaster for Labour.”

    I agree JJB-but where else is there for them to go.

    If the Blairite wing continue to push Centre Right policies-as in Adonis’ recent thoughts on City Academis-then they merely occupy the same ground as Cameron. The question for voters who support such policies is then who can best can implemement them ?-ie who is most competent ?.

    And Brown’s administration has a bad record for competence.Whether a Cameron led administration would be more competent is unknown-which does at least beat known incompetence.

    Surely too, the uncomfortable grouping of traditional socialists and Blairite third way triangulaters will come apart at the seams if the latter continue to move centre rightwards & then lose the election.

    I do think Portillo is right when he says Labour has to decide what it is for.

    Maybe we shall hear the first forays in that debate at their next Conference.

  20. “your unswerving belief in socialist government & your willingness to argue for it is admirable.”

    There must be another “john tt” at large.

    Myself, I’m proud to swerve, am much more interested in the cut and thrust of an argument than in which middle-ground party is in government, and I’d be the first to admit that I don’t even understand what socialism is, let alone approve of it or any other “ism”.

    I assume you meant the Tax Payers’ Alliance rather than the possibly more independent “Tissue plasminogen activator”. I’m sorry if you believe that investment in public services is a socialist policy – that makes Cameron one!

    I’m not about to analyse figures and argue the toss – I’m sure the Govt is less efficient at collecting and spending money than money-making individuals, so you have a point.

    Others seem to be suggesting that we now regret abandoning the Redwood idea of trickle-down economics wherre the poorest benefit from increased spending by the wealthiest..

    I don’t think so, and I believ that view is supported by polls that show eg 67% in favour of a windfall tax, a favourable public response to the (Tory) idea of the Non-dom £30k to Stay tax, and a negative public response to the abolition of the 10p rate.

  21. Colin, if Portillo is partially right then he is still missing a vital point.

    The lack of vision can easily be traced back to Brown’s decade running the Treasury where he imposed a systematic method of putting everything into terms it could be measured in – even Prescott was spouting statistics on birdsong to reflect quality of life issues.

    This is dry, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises because Brown’s Labour has rejected the conclusions of his own logic as an insufficiently powerful political argument to win continued electoral support (possibly because his political background has created a psychological bias in him, possibly as a response to Blairs continuous digs about his own popularity, or possibly as a result of ongoing pressure from his party supporters).

    Brown is constantly and actively seeking to bolster his popularity in myriad ways in order to spread a little of the gold-dust of the office of No10 (early morning personal phone calls to voters in marginal constituencies, statesmanlike messages of congratulations to television presenters, treacle-like reveling in the reflected glory of gold-medal winners), but this only distracts him from his real ‘message’ and the business of governing. It also creates a pathological need to create an ever-newer fix to non-existent problems (cue 10p tax cut).

    But it is all of it ungracious and overly-obvious electioneering and it is coming at the expense of leadership.

  22. “Myself, I’m proud to swerve”

    Indeed you are!-and with great panache too.

  23. Respectful thanks Colin.

  24. thomas

    I agree with your last para entirely.

    I suppose that whilst tucked away at the Treasury -at one remove from flack-it was difficult for the public (and many Labour MPs too!) to see what a tribal egotistical politician he is.( both of these Blair was not)

    As to your second para-yes he was the bean counter extraordinaire and imposed bean counting everywhere.

    No indeed it is not a bad thing-value for taxpayers money is very very important. But somehow-I think you will agree by general consensus-the micro-managed, target ridden regime which it spawned under Brown has been counterproductive to consumers’ interests in many public services….and irony of ironies-as Tax Payers’ Alliance & others demonstrate the bean counting failed to provide taxpayer value on so many occasions.

    So far as “vision” is concerned, I now seriously doubt whether Brown has any-or has ever had any.( Blair did )
    What he has in spades is a forensic ability to redistribute taxpayer pounds by the most complex welter of regulation in order to achieve social justice as he perceives it-good oldfashioned socialist Tax & Spend.

    He is a CFO-not a CEO and that’s how he should be judged.

    But I do agree with Portillo-Brown’s replacement will involve Labour in deciding what it really stands for-preferably before they choose a leader to get them there.

  25. Can it really only be 3 or 4 years ago that the pundits said that the Tories were a fading force and unlikely to regain power in a generation? Is it indeed only a year since Michael Portillo writing in the Sunday Times said that the Tories could never win the next election and only 4 months since Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University described a Conservative victory as so unlikely as to not be a consideration?
    If these are the same people who are now telling us similar stories of doom about the Labour party’s long term fortunes then why should we place any credence in what they say? What goes around comes around. Modern political parties of whatever stripe are very good at reinventing themselves and there is no need for core labour supporters to cut their throats-their turn will come again. Just hopefully not in my lifetime!

  26. Anthony,

    Bob Worcester has got a spot on pb.com. Are you going to offer your great polling knowledge to us see-sayeers? Please…! :)

    John tt,

    Cut the layers, lower the taxes. Easy, see…!

  27. Nick you have a point about Portillo’s changed stance on Tory prospects. One can only hope he is suitably chastened.

    However, in saying that Labour will have to decide what they are for, he is only echoing your own thoughts on reinvention.

    Thank goodness the Conservatives are through all of that at last.

  28. Colin, I don’t like it when people agree quite as vociferously as that, it makes me think they haven’t quite caught the drift.

    Brown does have a vision, I’m sure of it, but it is blurred and dazed by the way his actions keep setting a sledgehammer to it.

    It would be easy for Brown to turn his fortunes around if he could just lay down his sledgehammer, but for whatever reason he can’t or won’t and in the end his demise will be his own work.

    I’m still not convinced that the next election is not still Labour’s to lose, as Brown could yet recieve a revelation as he approaches his date with destiny.

  29. Since you asked so nicely Fluffy…

  30. Fluffy – I’m all for cutting red tape.

    Remove over-measuring, spend the savings better (ie not on tax cuts for the wealthiest) Much easier, you follow?

  31. thomas-I am sorry to have agreed with you so firmly-so will put things right..

    I do not agree that it would be “easy” for Brown to turn his fortunes round-with or without a sledgehammer.

  32. colin

    Michael Portillo is quite a curious chap. Up until recently he gave me the impression that he was just a wee bit jealous of David Cameron and was perhaps suffering from a slight dose of sour grapes at Cameron’s perceived success in reviving the Conservative party. For all his translation from the right to the centre of his party and the softening of his image Portillo was never the man to lead the Conservatives out of the wildnerness because like Michael Howard he was too indentified with the past. But he remains a considerable political figure and I hope that some role can be found for his undoubted talents.

  33. That’s more like it colin!

    Personally I think Brown could turn his fortunes round and enhance his chances at the next election, though I think it is growing more unlikely by the day.

    How ‘easy’ it would be to do so depends upon one’s assesment of the starting position (which includes the party psychology and the analytical frameowrk of individual members), so perhaps my lack of insider knowledge prevents me from being quite as pessimistic as you.

    Nevertheless it is too early to have written Labour completely off already, as there are plenty of factors which have yet to come into play.

    The Conservatives have made mistakes, but they have so far been given an easy ride by the media because of the expectations which surround them. If this rises in the public consciousness and large sections of society start to have second thoughts then it will become a narrative which is hard for them to shake off because there is the automatic associations with both what was negative about their track record in government as well as what what positive.

    Everything is still balanced on a knife-edge and the leaders should each remeber that the blade cuts both ways.

    Which is why the question of Labour’s core vote is so important. If they have hit rock bottom already then they can only go one of two ways – they can either implode or they can start rising again. If they have not yet hit rock bottom then they will continue fragmenting until they do.

    My personal feeling is that we are going through an generational period of redefinition where no party can be considered to be firing on all cylinders. They all have weaknesses and they all suffer by comparison to each other, so the public is facing a vote on their relative merits – which means unfavorable conditions for a landslide.

  34. In discussing Labour’s core vote one might think few places were more core than Glasgow East. The disaffected Old Labour supporter is spoilt for choice in the SP with four electable parties to the left of New Labour (UK) not counting the LibDems. There is certainly no need to abstain or vote Conservative.

    If things continue as they are there will be significant Labour losses in Scotland at Westminster

    This loss is because Labour have moved to the right to satisfy “Middle England” and a right wing press. That they have rejected socialist language and policies likely to benefit a class structured electorate is not a bad idea in itself, but they have also lost sight of Socialist values.

    The have allowed the impression to be gained that they can be bought by the rich, are America’s poodles and value presentation over substance.

    That the Scottish party is contolled – and that’s the right word – from London, is a damaging error which has lost them the control of the SP, giving the non-doctrinaire Nationalists the opportunity they need.