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.


A quick post about the YouGov poll in Friday’s Times. Topline Westminster voting intention figures are CON 19%, LAB 19%, LDEM 24%, BREXIT 22%.

These are obviously startling figures, unprecedented even. There are historical examples of third parties taking the lead (Cleggmania, for example, or the early successes of the SDP-Liberal Alliance), but I don’t think there are any when the Conservatives and Labour were both pushed out of the top two.

However, even leaving aside the traditional warning that this is “just one poll”, this is one poll conducted in the immediate aftermath of the European elections. Part of what we are seeing is a boost for the Liberal Democrats and Brexit party from doing well in the Euros, getting lots of media coverage and looking like winners. Under normal circumstances we would expect that boost to fade in time (though a success for either of them at the Peterborough by-election could potentially keep it going).

Realistically though, we’ve got several weeks of coverage of the Conservative leadership election ahead of us, followed by the media circus around the elevation of a new Prime Minister. The media agenda will move back towards Labour and the Conservatives, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t seem one or other of them move back into the lead.

Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable poll, and like the election results last week, again brings home the extent to which Brexit is tearing apart the party identities, loyalties and assumptions that have traditionally underpinned our electoral politics. Our party system really does seem to be straining under the pressure. I don’t expect it to break just yet, but looking ahead we still have Brexit itself to deliver (or not, as the case may be). There is almost certainly plenty more political instability to come.


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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.


This morning’s Times has a new YouGov poll with topline figures of CON 28%(-4), LAB 32%(+1), LDEM 11%(-1), BREXIT 8%(+3), UKIP 6%(-1), GRN 5%(+1), Change 3% (new). Fieldwork was Wednesday and Thursday and changes are since the start of April. This is the first standard YouGov poll that’s included Change UK – now they are in the process of registering as a political party I expect we’ll start to see them included in most polls.

The Conservative score of 28% is the first time YouGov have shown them dropping below 30% since 2013. While one can never be certain about what has caused changes in voting intention, it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that they are shedding support to more unambiguously pro-Brexit parties like UKIP and the Brexit party.

As ever, one should be cautious about reading too much into any single poll, but this is pretty much in line with other recent polling. A BMG poll last week put Labour 2 points ahead and the Conservatives down at 29%, a Survation poll this week (unusually of England & Wales only) produced a four point Labour lead. Kantar’s latest poll produced a three point Labour lead (and a startling 9 point drop in Tory support, though I suspect that was at least partially a reversion to the mean after an usually high Tory lead in their previous poll). Across the board Conservative support seems to be falling away.

The YouGov poll also included voting intention for the European elections. Initial headline figures there are CON 16%, LAB 24%, LDEM 8%, BREXIT 15%, UKIP 14%, GRN 8%, Change 7%.

I should add some caveats here. It is, obviously, very early – the European elections have only just been announced and people are unlikely to have put much if any thought towards who they will support. This early measure however suggests that the Conservatives will, as widely predicted, suffer badly. As yet they are narrowly in second place, but I would by no means assume that will hold (not least, the Brexit party will still be largely unknown and many respondents will be unaware that they are now the party of Nigel Farage, rather than UKIP, and I’d expect them to gain support as they gain publicity. Equally, it remains to be seen what impact there is on Change UK support once they officially launch as a party.

Full tabs for both questions are here.


There are two polls in this morning’s papers – Survation in the Mail and YouGov in the Times.

Survation have topline figures of CON 35%(-5), LAB 39%(+3), LDEM 10%(nc), UKIP 5%(nc). Fieldwork was on Friday, and changes are from mkid-February.
YouGov have topline figures of CON 35%(-5), LAB 31%(nc), LDEM 12%(+1), UKIP 6%(+3). Fieldwork was Thursday to Friday, and changes are from the start of March.

The overall leads are different, but that’s to be expected (Survation tend to produce figures that are better for Labour than most pollsters, YouGov tend to produce figures that are better for the Conservatives). The more interesting thing is what they have in common – both are showing a significant drop in Conservative support. As ever, it is worth waiting for other polls to show a similar trend before putting too much weight on it, but on first impressions it looks as though the ongoing chaos over Brexit may be starting to eat into Tory support.