YouGov have carried out a new poll for Iain Duncan Smith’s think tank, the Centre for Policy Justice, dealing with the future direction of the Conservative party.
The poll firstly asks if respondents might consider voting Conservative at the next election – 42% say they might, technically enough to win the next election, but a comparatively poor figure compared to the 56% who might consider voting Labour and the 50% who might consider voting Lib Dem.
YouGov then gave a series of changes the Conservative party could make, and asked if they made respondents more or less likely to vote Conservative. They have broken down the answers for all respondents and, more importantly, for the group of people who said they might consider voting Conservative at the next election, but didn’t vote conservative in 2005.
Starting with the “traditionally Conservative” suggestions, 69% of potential Conservative voters who didn’t vote Conservative said they would be more likely to vote Tory if the party put forward proposals to limit immigration, while 6% said they would be less likely – a positive rating of 63%. While this lends some credence to the comments by Lynton Crosby that it would have been good for the party do talk about immigration more during the campaign, it does beg the question of exactly how much concentration and how extreme a policy would these respondents need in order to vote Tory?
Secondly, YouGov asked about “Providing more protection for schoolchildren from explicit sex education”. This was the only suggestion on teh survey that fitted into the “traditional morality” mould – 39% of people who might consider voting Tory but didn’t (we’ll call them target voters, for now) said it would make them more likely to vote Tory, but 16% of people said it would make them less likely to vote Tory – the second highest of any of the suggestions. This doesn’t bode particularly well for a “traditional morality” way forward for the Conservatives.
Reducing taxes has a positive rating of 61%, although YouGov specify in the question that it is tax cuts for low income workers, making the suggestion a rather more general one. Tax cuts for the low paid would be perceived very differently depending upon how they were funded.
Finally in the traditionalist Conservative mould YouGov asked about radical reform of the public services, involving the private sector. This appealled to more target voters than sex education proposal – 43% – but was also the suggestion that repelled the most people; 18% said it would make them less likely to vote Tory. Again, this does not suggest that a more radical stance on public services would provide any easy answers for the Conservative party.
Moving on YouGov put forward two statements that we can roughly categorise as being Modernising suggestions – trendy modernising, if you wish, what Tim Montgomerie categorises as “Soho modernisers” as opposed to “Easterhouse Modernisers”. “Policies to end discrimination against gay people”, rather unsurprisingly, make no difference whatsover to most (64%) target voters. 23% of them say such moves would make them more likely to vote Tory, but 12% say it would make them less likely to vote Tory – a net positive of 11%. Interestingly though this is almost twice as positive as amongst the general population, where the rating is only plus 6%.
The second “trendy moderning” suggestion is having more candidates drawn from minority groups. This is the only suggestion that YouGov’s survey suggests would actually have a negative effect on the Conservatives chances. Again, the overwhelming majority (75%) of target voters say such a move would make no difference to their voting intention, but slightly more (15%) say it would decrease their chances of voting Tory than say it would increase (10%) their likelihood. The message here appears to be that any moves to articifically increase the number of minority candidates the party has would be counter-productive.
Finally, as you might expect given the survey’s origin, YouGov gave some proposals which I would broadly categorize as being on the left of the party (again, I expect Tim would put them under his “Easterhouse moderniser” tag, but I think you can go too far with inventing descriptions for different groups in the party. There’s nothing here that the left of the party would disagree with). Promising to increase spending on health and education has a positive rating of 69% (although again this is something the party did at the 2005 election, and these people still didn’t vote Tory. The question here is obviously how you present such a policy in a credible manner), tackling global poverty has a positive rating of 35% (and receives a negative rating of only 9%), while addressing “social justice” receives a positive rating of 67%.
Of course, “social justice” is rather an amorphous term. YouGov go on to ask respondents about exactly what they understand by the term social justice. 55% of people think it involves more equality between the rich and the poor, 32% think it means offering state support to the vulnerable, 60% think it means helping the vulnerable to help themselves, 44% think it means more help for the elderly and disabled, and so on. I have a suspicion that “social justice” receives such a high positive rating because people perceive it to mean what they want it to mean…not, of course, that this a bad thing for a political party to stand for; I’m sure we can all name politicians who have made their names by being all things to all men.
Two caveats – firstly, the figures I’ve picked out have been the ones for target voters, the way these figures have been presented does rather lead one to forget about the existing Tory voters. Just because most of these suggestions appeal to the target voters, it doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility that they might alienate groups of existing voters.
Secondly, when Conservative politicans argue the case for making addressing poverty a core message, they tend to have the aim not of persuading swathes of people on grim Northern housing estates to vote Tory – firstly they aren’t going to, secondly the Conservative party aren’t going to start winning seats in the middle of Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow anyway, so votes there are useless to them. The aim of such an agenda is to make the Conservative party more of a caring, altrustic, optimistic party, rather than a selfish, insular party out for themselves. Hence it isn’t really about particular policies, it’s about the whole party image, and questions about whether policy A will make people more likely to vote Tory rather miss the point. It isn’t about the individual policies, it’s the party image the policies as a whole create, and simple opinion poll questions can’t really get to the bottom of that, any more than a “Would you vote Tory if they were just, you know, nicer?” question would.