On Saturday YouGov released a new poll of Tory party members for the Times, timed to coincide with ballot papers going out and members actually starting to cast their votes. If the race was to be in any way close it would really need to have shown a substantial drop in Boris Johnson’s lead. It did not show any drop at all – Boris Johnson continued to have a 48 point lead over Jeremy Hunt, 74% to 26%.

Boris Johnson’s private life was seen as irrelevant, members would be happier with him as leader, trusted him more, thought he would be a better Prime Minister. In terms of the race itself, the poll was very much cut and dried. With that in mind, perhaps the more interesting thing to look at is members’ expectations. Despite Boris Johnson’s stated aim, only 45% of party members think he will actually be able to negotiate a better deal. His attraction seems more because 90% of members think he would be prepared to leave without one. Even then, only 54% of party members think a Johnson led party would actually end up leaving without a deal by Oct 31st (26% think he will leave with a deal, 13% that we won’t have left by then). Even so, most party members don’t seem to be in the mood to set red lines – only 34% think that it would be a resigning offence if the new leader failed to deliver Brexit by October 31st.

Full tables are here.

Since I’ve been asked about it by a lot of journalists over the last week or so, I should probably also explain a bit more about how polling party members works. First up, it is hard. If you think about the traditional approaches towards polling, they simply aren’t plausible for polling members of political parties. The Conservative party themselves are not likely to provide polling companies with a list of party members’s contact details to randomly select people from. Given far less than 1% of the population are Conservative party members it is certainly not feasible to randomly ring people up in the hope of finding Conservative party members, neither do members live in geographically concentrated areas that would make the sort of clustered face-to-face sampling that is sometimes used for BME polling feasible. Apart from an academic study in the 1990s that had the co-operation of the party itself, polling of party members was simply impossible before the advent of internet polling.

The only way that it is possible these days is to use an internet panel, either a small, specially recruited one like ConHome’s mailing list, or the way YouGov do it – by having a panel of the general public that is so large that you can draw very niche samples like party members from within it. YouGov identify Conservative members as part of the general process of collecting demographic information about respondents – as well as age, gender, occupation and so on panellists are asked if they are a member of organisations such as the National Trust, WI, RSPB, English Heritage, Conservative party, Labour party and so on. The parties are asked alongside other organisations, at neutral times (and the occasional clever bugger who claims to be a member of every party to get into all the surveys is excluded from them all). Party membership is asked again during the survey to check answers are consistent.

It remains tricky however because of a lack of demographic targets. For normal polling of the British public quotas and weights will be set based on known demographics of the target population. For example, we know from the census and ONS population estimates that around 49% of the adult population in Britain are male, 51% female, so polling companies will ensure samples reflect that. The Conservative party does not publish any such targets, so polling companies are flying a little blind. YouGov estimate targets based on the demographics of party members on our wider panel and known skews within it, but it poses an additional difficulty.

So polls of party members pose particular challenges, but in this case Boris Johnson’s lead is so large and, more importantly, so consistent across groups that he is likely to win regardless. He leads among different age groups, men and women, working class and middle class, and every region – so in the event that the balance of those groups were a bit off, it wouldn’t change the victor. The only group Jeremy Hunt leads amongst is those party members who voted to Remain.

For whats worth, YouGov’s record of polling party leadership contests has been extremely good in the past. If anything, the problems that have bedevilled polls in recent decades and companies have spent so much time and money addressing – getting respondents who are too interested in politics – have been a positive in recruiting respondents to polls of party members.


Polling in the weekend papers is dominated by the Conservative leadership race. The Mail on Sunday has a Survation poll, or more to the point, two Survation polls. A full one conducted on Wednesday and Thursday and then a second one conducted on Saturday after the news story of the police being called to Boris Johnson’s flat had broken.

I would always urge some caution with “Has X made you more or less likely to support Y” questions. Some people answer them in a way to register their approval or disapprove of the event or the candidate, rather than whether it has really changed their mind. Hence lots of people who really loathed Boris Johnson anyway will have said it has made their opinion worse, when actually they would probably never have supported him anyway. It also explain the rather perverse finding that 9% of people say the story makes them them more likely to support Boris Johnson – I expect those are actually just people trying to express their pro-Boris Johnson opinion, rather than it actually having improved their opinion.

The much more better way of measuring change is to compare before and after preferences. On Wed/Thurs Survation asked who would make the better Prime Minister, finding the public preferred Johnson to Hunt by 36% to 28%. They polled the same question again on Saturday and found the balance had shifted, with Johnson on 29%, Hunt 32%. Among Conservative voters Johnson continued to lead, but by a smaller margin – the break was Johnson 55%, Hunt 28% on Wed/Thurs, Johnson 45%, Hunt 34% on Saturday.

This gives an early indication that the story has shifted public opinion against Johnson a bit – though as ever, I would urge some caution. It was taken just as a story was breaking when it was all over the news. Whether it has any impact in a few weeks time is a completely different question. It is also important to remember that the views of Conservative voters are not necessarily a good guide to the views of Conservative party members.. Full tables for the Survation polls are here and here.

(A quick note for methodology geeks. On their main poll Survation are now including the Brexit party in the main prompt alongside the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Green party, UKIP and ChangeUK are in the secondary prompt. More interestingly, the Wed/Thurs poll was also weighted by recalled 2019 European election vote, which appears from the weighted/unweighted numbers to downweight 2019 Labour voters quite substantially and bump up the Lib Dems and Greens. I don’t know if that’s a permanent change they are adopting.)

There is also a ComRes poll in the Telegraph – it is headlined as a poll of “grass-roots Tories”, but it is in fact a poll of Conservative councillors, not of ordinary Conservative party members. The two things are really not interchangeable. For what it’s worth though, among Tory councillors Johnson leads Hunt by 61% to 39%. It was carried out on Friday and Saturday, so would have straddled the Johnson domestic row story. It not clear how much of the fieldwork was before and after the story breaking.

Finally we come to the people who actually do have a vote in this election. YouGov had a new poll of Conservative party members in yesterday’s Times. The fieldwork for this was between Wednesday and Friday, so was before the story about the police visiting Johnson’s flat had broken. However, it underlines the huge lead that Johnson had among members – he led Hunt by 68% to 23% (74% to 26% once don’t knows are excluded), with 80% of members saying they were already fairly certain who they would vote for. Johnson would really need to make a mess of things to throw away a lead that large. The other interesting pickings from that poll where that while Tory members were voting for Boris, many didn’t actually trust him – only 47% thought he could be trusted to tell the truth, 40% did not.

So, all in all, the Survation poll raises the possibility that the Johnson domestic had some impact, but it’s only one poll, done in the immediate aftermath. I’d wait to see if it lasts once the story is off the front pages. In the meantime, polling of the people who can actually vote in this contest suggest Johnson has such a large lead that it would take something major to throw it away.


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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.


The Times have released a new YouGov poll of party members – the report is here and the tables here.

Theresa May’s time is essentially up. Party members are normally the loyalist of the loyal, but even here there are few good words to be said. Only 20% of her own members think she is doing well and 79% think she should resign. Asked about her record, 25% of Tory party members think she has been a poor Prime Minister, 38% a terrible Prime Minister.

Let us therefore move swiftly onto her replacement. The obvious frontrunner with party members remains Boris Johnson. He is seen as a good leader by 64% to 31%, and is the first choice of 39% of party members, easily ahead of his rivals. He has the highest positive ratings on every measure YouGov asked about – 77% of party members think he has a likeable personality, 70% that he would be able to win a general election, 69% that he shares their outlook, 67% that he is up to the job, 69% that he would be a strong leader, 61% that he would be competent.

Johnson is very clearly in pole position – yet in past Conservative leadership elections the clear early frontrunner has not necessarily gone on to win (and indeed, there is no guarantee that Johnson will even reach the final round or get to be voted on by party members). One can recall the time when Michael Portillo was the obvious frontrunner to succeed William Hague, or David Davis the obvious frontrunner to succeed Michael Howard.

Looking at the rest of the field, Dominic Raab is in second place in first preferences on 13%. As the other candidate to have resigned from the cabinet – and likely to be see as a “true Brexiteer” by members – he comes closest to Johnson in the head-to-head match ups and beats ever other candidate in head-to-head figures. Considering he has a substantially lower profile than Johnson, it is a positive finding.

Of the Brexiteers in the cabinet, Michael Gove is the second best known candidate after Johnson, but polls badly on many counts. While most see him as competent and up to the job, he is not seen as capable of winning an election or having a likeable personality. Andrea Leadsom is seen as likeable, but not as an election winner. Penny Mordaunt receives high don’t know figures on most scores.

Looking at the candidates who backed Remain in the referendum, Sajid Javid seems best placed candidate from that wing of the party. In first preferences he is in joint third with Michael Gove, and in the head to head scores he would beat Hunt, Hancock, Mordaunt or Stewart (and tie with Leadsom). He scores well on being likeable, competent and up to the job, but his figures are more mixed on being seen as an election winner.

These are, of course, only the opinions of party members. While they will have the final say, they do not get a say on who makes the shortlist. That is down to MPs, and as things stand there is very scant information on who is doing well or badly among that electorate.


After becoming Conservative leader in 1997 William Hague oversaw a review of the party’s leadership rules. As everyone interested in politics knows the main part of this was to give ordinary party members a vote – Conservative MPs would still get to whittle down the field of candidates to two, but ordinary party members would then pick the final winner (in theory at least, in 2016 that final choice was dodged by Andrea Leadsom standing down).

The other major change introduced by Hague seems to have seeped less well into the consciousness of the Westminster village. You still see the press talking about “stalking horse” candidates sometimes, or talk about such-and-such mounting a challenge against the leader, echoing back to the old rules when people like Thatcher in 1975 and Heseltine in 1990 could directly stand against the incumbent leader. Such a race is no longer possible. Grant Shapps this morning called for Theresa May to call a leadership election. Again, she can’t really do that, or at least, not in the way John Major did in 1995 when he called an election and stood himself. The current rules state that if a contest is caused by the resignation of the incumbent leader then that outgoing leader can’t stand as a candidate. In short, the only way Theresa May could call a leadership election is by resigning and going away.

Under the current rules a Conservative leader cannot face a leadership “challenge”. Instead the way of removing a leader is through a vote of confidence by Conservative MPs, triggered by 15% (currently 48) of Conservative MPs writing to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee saying they would like one. The incumbent leader does not face a challenger or challengers in such a vote, it is a straight Yes or No to whether they should continue in office. If the leader loses the vote, then they cease to be leader and an election for a replacement begins in which the ousted leader is not eligible to stand.

The 48 letters do not need to be organised together, or indeed sent at the same time. They can be a collection of dribs and drabs sent over weeks or months. Right now Grant Shapps appears to be organising (or is, at least, the public face of) those Tory MPs who wish May to go, but there is no requirement in the rules for a “challenger” as such.

Full rules are actually quite hard to find – while the party constitution has some details of the election procedure, the rules for ousting a leader are in a seperate document from the 1922 committee. A full set of the rules is, however, on Tom Quinn’s website here.