Ian Warren of Electiondata had published a new YouGov poll of Labour party members. Overall, it looks as if Jeremy Corbyn’s suppport among the Labour membership is down a bit since last year… but that right now he’d likely be re-elected again. To some degree a fall in support among existing members has probably been mitigated by the gradual churn in membership as pre-Corbyn membership falls and newer, more pro-Corbyn members join. Back in August 2016, 53% of paid up Labour members thought Jeremy Corbyn was doing well, 45% badly. The latest figures are 51% well, 47% badly. The figures are not directly comparable because of changing membership (a substantial proportion of members joined post EU referendum and they were some of the most pro-Corbyn members). Nevertheless, the net effect is that Corbyn’s support really hasn’t fallen much.
If we go back and look at Corbyn’s historical ratings among party members the big drop appears to be at the time of the EU referendum and the attempted coup, but since then things have steadied. In Nov 2015 66% of Labour members thought Corbyn was doing well, by May 2016 that had risen to 72%. Straight after the EU referendum and Hilary Benn’s sacking it it fell to 51%, in July 2016 it stood at 55%, by August 2016 it stood at 53%, today it is back to 51%. Some of those ups and downs are because the polls were seeking to measure those Labour members entitled to take part in the election and there were back and forths about cut-off dates, but you can see the broad trend – a sharp fall, then a pretty steady position.
Neither has there been much change in attitudes towards Corbyn’s future. Opinion has moved a little against Corbyn fighting the general election and in favour of an organised transition. 44% of Labour members now think Corbyn should contest the general election (down from 47% last August, but up from 41% in June 2016), 14% think he should stand down at some time before the election (up from 6% in August). The proportion of members backing his immediate ousting has actually fallen, now just 36% (from 39% in August 2016 and 44% in June 2016)
If there was an election now, 52% of Labour members say they would definitely or probably vote for Corbyn in a fresh leadership election, 46% said they would probably or definitely not. To put this in context, when YouGov asked the same question in June 2016 50% of Labour members said they would probably or definitely vote for Jeremy Corbyn, 47% said they would probably vote against him.
In the event the leadership election that followed was not a close thing. By July 57% of Labour members were saying they’d probably vote Corbyn (40% probably would not) and Corbyn’s lead among full party members ended up being 18 percentage points. Of course, it may be that the 2016 leadership election could have panned out differently with a different anti-Corbyn candidate or a different strategy, but comparing these figures to the polls before last year’s leadership election does not suggest there has been any sea-change in Labour members’ support for Jeremy Corbyn.
So what, if anything, would change the mind of Labour members? Ian’s poll asked if Corbyn should stand down in various circumstances. A substantial majority (68%) of Labour members said he should go if Labour lose the general election. A majority (55%) also said he should go if he loses the support of Trade Union leaders, and 50% said he should go if he loses the support of the shadow cabinet.
The problem is these are theoretical questions. In practice people tend to see events through the prism of their existing support, so Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters will tend to explain away negative events and blame then on other people (that’s not intended as a comment about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in particular, but on human nature in general. It happens in all other political parties too). There’s a lovely example of this in Ian’s poll – asked who or what was most responsible for losing the Copeland by-election, 85% of those Labour members who voted for Owen Smith said Jeremy Corbyn. Very few Labour voters who voted for Jeremy Corbyn last year put any blame on him though – among Corbyn’s 2016 voters the main causes of the Copeland defeat were seen as the media (46%) and Tony Blair’s speech (35%). Only 14% blamed Jeremy Corbyn. Don’t imagine that all those hundreds of thousands of members who have supported Jeremy Corbyn, who have been enthused by him and brought into the party by him will easily be disuaded from supporting him.