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.


I am a little cautious of the value of voting intention polls at this point, we can expect the appointment of a new Prime Minister to have a significant impact on political support, so voting intention polls right now seem a trifle redundant. However, for what they are worth there have been two new VI polls this week so far.

YouGov for the Times had topline figures of CON 22%(+2), LAB 20%(nc), LDEM 19%(-2), BREX 22%(-1), GRN 10%(+1). Fieldwork was Monday to Tuesday, and changes are from mid-June. Tabs are here.

Ipsos MORI‘s monthly political monitor in the Standard had topline figures of CON 26%(+1), LAB 24%(-3). LDEM 22%(+7), BREX 12%(-4), GRN 8%(-1). Fieldwork was over the weekend, and changes are from last month. Full details are here.

Both the polls have the Conservatives and Labour at similar levels of support, both have the Liberal Democrats close behind them and doing far better than in recent years.

There is a significant difference in levels of support for the Brexit party – 22% or 12%. Some of this may be down to one survey being online, one by telephone, with all the potential differences that leads to in terms of sample and interviewer effect. However at the European Parliament elections YouGov and MORI had the Brexit party at pretty similar levels to each other (YouGov had them 2 points higher than MORI), which doesn’t suggest that’s the main reason.

The more likely cause appears to be prompting. YouGov now include the Brexit party in their main prompt when they ask which party people will vote for, Ipsos MORI have not, so as not to upset their trend data. How much difference this makes is unclear… and indeed, it may have a different impact on online polls (where the answer options are there in front of people) and telephone polls (where people may be prompted with options, but can say what they like). MORI note in their write-up that it remains under review, and they may add the Brexit party to their main prompt in the future.


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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.


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.