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New TUC polling on voter attitudes

young votersThe TUC are today publishing vital polling information, which throws light on the areas where Labour needs to improve, if we are to win the next election. The polling was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the TUC, straight after the election. The findings are available as interactive graphs, allowing users to compare different subgroups and questions. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

We commissioned this poll having no idea of the election outcome. But the unexpected result means that there will be much wider interest, and we are pleased to put its results into the public domain. It will be fascinating to see how Labour’s leadership candidates respond to some very challenging findings, just as we can see other parties acting on the same issues that their own polls will have revealed.

What comes through is that this poll offers no simple set of solutions for a new Labour leader – the attitudes revealed are a fascinating mix that shows voters are on the left on some issues and on the right on others.

The challenges Labour now faces are very different from those in the past. Voters back a lot of the trade union agenda on living standards and an economic policy based on investment and growth, rather than the deep cuts we now face. But on welfare and immigration their views are very challenging.

Interestingly, voters are not greatly worried about Labour being against aspiration or anti-business, despite these emerging as themes in Labour’s post mortem. But they did see Labour as a risk and doubted their competence to run the economy, despite being unenthusiastic about Conservative cuts.

There is no simple formula for a Labour victory here. But to find a route, the party will need to start with the kind of map this poll provides.”

There are a number of positives for Labour. For example, 18-34 year-olds voted for Labour by 39 to 30 over the Conservatives, with UKIP and the Greens each getting 8 per cent. Labour is also seen as being on the side of ordinary people (a 31 point lead over the Conservatives among voters) and the NHS (a 17 point lead). Labour also fared generally better among women than men, although even among women the Conservatives had a 2% advantage (36% to 34%), compared to a 10% lead for the Conservatives among men (39% to 29%)

The current leadership debate seems to be developing an early consensus that Labour needs to address “aspirational” voters. In fact, as Chris Dillow has perceptively observed,

Alan Johnson’s lament that Labour is no longer “a party of aspiration” confirms […] that Blairism is not so much wrong as just out-of-date.

[…] back in the 90s, it was easy to be a party of aspiration. The IT revolution was promising a bright new future, so talk of aspiration, modernity and newness chimed with the zeitgeist. And the world economy was growing well and a favourable supply shock – a falling China price – was boosting real incomes. A government could thus deliver rising living standards simply by not screwing things up too much.

But now is not then. Labour productivity has been flatlining for years and the intelligent talk today is of secular stagnation, not of a new economy. This changes everything. In a world of zero productivity growth, people’s real incomes can rise only in one of three ways: by moving from unemployment to work (which whilst a good thing is not what Mr Johnson means); or by getting a lucky supply shock such as falling commodity prices, which might not happen; or if one person’s income rises at the expense of another’s.

When productivity is flat, “aspiration” is a zero sum game.

What the TUC polling shows is that 13 % of voters considered voting Labour before choosing another party. It is reasonable to assume that this group who considered but rejected Labour are the key swing vote constituency that Labour must win over. Of this group, just 8 % of them say their biggest doubts included that Labour being ‘hostile to aspiration, success and people who want to get on’. This was dwarfed by concerns over Labour spending too much, and being hostage to the SNP.

Contrary to the argument coming from some leadership contenders, by 42 to 22 voters thought Labour was too soft on big business, not too tough; and this rose a ratio of 50 to 15 among voters who considered Labour. By 46 to 35 voters thought Lab should increase taxes on the rich rather than worry about driving investors abroad.

There is also evidence that many voters have a very instrumental view of politics. For many voters, the deciding issue will be which party gives them confidence that they and their familly will maintain or improve their standard of living. The conservatives benefited from incumbency, at a time when most people see the economy recovering, and low interest rates benefit mortgage payers. The Conservatives are seen to have a good track record in government by 54 per cent of voters, perhaps explained by the fact that 60 per cent think the economy is improving and more think their personal finances are improving than think they are getting worse.

Labour is 39 points behind on economic trust despite the fact that the poll suggests Labour’s potential growth arguments are more persuasive than a right-wing focus on the deficit, red tape and tax.

Interestingly, the evidence is contradictory when it comes to evaluating the claims from “Blue Labour“, that a new social model of reciprocity and mutuality should be central to Labour’s vision. By a ratio of 77 to 15 voters are looking for ‘concrete plans for sensible change’ rather than ‘a big vision for radical change’ from political parties. However, by a ratio of 62 to 20 voters want Labour to be tougher on immigration rather than more positive, and a similar margin exists on welfare. This would suggest that to be successful, Labour does need to engage with the collective sense of shared national identity and its values, but this needs to be done organically, rather than trying to sell a big “vision thing”

Where Labour does have an advantage, is that it already has an organic link with some 3 million trade union members, through the affiliated unions; and those unions retain their members by addressing the day to day concerns and problems of their members. While trade union activists are perhaps sustained by a shared ideology of mutuality, and even socialism, the relationship that these activists have with the wider membership is a more complex one, and the art of trade union leadership is to present the case for collectivity and solidarity to members who have a much more instrumental attitude, and a much weaker relationship to the union than the activists do.

This is something that Labour needs to learn to do better, it is necessary for the party to create a vision of a fairer and better Britain, and develop that into detailed policies, but it is also necessary to persuade millions of potential voters, who don’t already identify with Labour, that a Labour government will result in not just a fairer society, but also one where they, and those they care about, are more prosperous, and less exposed to economic risk.


  1. swatantra says:

    You don’t have to be a genius to work that out.
    Maybe the Survey will knock some sense into the Unions.

    1. Robert says:

      Well said Swat maybe Unions need to pay more money out in strike pay, and less to the Labour party right wingers of progress.

  2. Robert says:

    About as interesting as watching the labour elections for a new leader of progress.

  3. David Ellis says:

    Anybody who thinks that politics is primarily about winning swing voters has surrendered to New Labour managerialism.

    1. Robert says:

      But that is politics today labour would rather get a few thousand Tory swing voters, then work toward getting the working class back.

      1. Andy Newman says:

        It is foolish to assume that only the middle classes are swing voters. I can only assume that you have not spent much time knocking doors in working class areas over the last few weeks

        1. Robert says:

          Nope my illness tend to keep me away and my wheelchair puts people off.

          But I’ve done my share before I became a scrounger.

          1. Andy Newman says:

            Sorry, I should have said knocking on doors or telephone canvassing.

            My point was not to be moralistic, but to observe that the evidence of actually talking to people shows that there are a lot of working class swing voters.

      2. David Ellis says:

        That is what they have turned it into Robert. In fact it should be about advancing a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism around which the working class can muster and demonstrate to the middle classes its determination to take on and smash the power of monopoly imperialist capital. Under those circumstances you wouldn’t have to worry about a few swing voters or don’t knows who are currently left to decide the fate of millions.

        1. Robert says:

          Well swing voters of course are larger then a few, and I will admit some of the working class are now moving over to other parties, but in my area the working class are in the main labou

        2. Andy Newman says:

          “a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism around which the working class can muster and demonstrate to the middle classes its determination to take on and smash the power of monopoly imperialist capital.” … …. and a pony

          1. Robert says:

            I no longer believe in that guff, after 40 odd years in labour I’ve given up the idea of socialism or labour being the party of anything else but politicians who only aim is to make them selves better off.

            One look at the Kinnocks as socialist is enough.

  4. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into–what else?–another piece of news. Thus we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.”

    ― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

  5. Barry Ewart says:

    Perhaps Labour could remember it is also about political education.
    We are not passive actors and can intervene and shouldn’t accept people as they are, but try to politicise people to win hearts and minds.
    How come we fail to commictate with the millions like us who also have to sell their labour to live?
    Perhaps we have to become a grassroots bottom up organisation instead of being a top down.
    We also need a leader who reflects the aspirations of the grassroots.
    Many of us are socialists because we want all human beings to reach their full potential.

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