With party conference season in full swing, we have today published the results of some polling with marginal voters. Conducted for us by respected pollster Matt Singh of Number Cruncher Politics (NCP), and covered by The Sun this morning, to our knowledge this is the first such public poll of voters in swing seats in a while.
Matt’s take is here.
First, a quick note on methodology: it’s an online poll across 60 Conservative or Labour held seats with a majority under 5% in England. The full tables are here. We don’t have results for individual seats (this would have been too expensive) but it does give you a feel for how the voters that will play a big role in deciding the next election are thinking and feeling.
So what does it tell us? Well, Labour are two points up in marginal seats, a small swing since the last election. This is roughly in line with NCP’s findings nationally, however, so it shouldn’t animate anyone too much at this stage. It’s what lies beneath this that is worth a look, and should probably worry the government a bit more:
1) Housing is the issue marginal voters are the most pessimistic about.
NCP presented marginal voters with a list of issues and asked them which they felt had got better, worse, or stayed the same in the last five years. ‘Cost and affordability of housing’ came out top as an area that voters in the marginals felt had got worse (67%). They were even more gloomy about housing than the NHS (which 54% felt had got worse) and immigration (48%), while crime was also up there, on 66%, an issue that has also gone up in the public’s agenda recently. It’s not all bad news for the government; they got decent marks on levels of unemployment, and voters felt ok about education. But the sense that housing had got worse was felt strongly across all demographics, and interestingly particularly among older age groups, as well as those who say they are most likely to vote.
Housing gloom among marginal voters is confirmed in other questions in the survey, as they all say they believe there is a housing crisis (nationally and locally) and that it will be harder for the next generation to own or rent than it was for them.
2) Concern is driven by private renters.
Looking a little deeper still, while concern about housing is shared by all groups in marginal seats, it is particularly motivating and pissing off one group in particular: private renters. When asked what issues will affect their vote, housing is around 5th or 6th for most voters; for private renters in marginal seats it is in the top 3 – above the economy and behind only Brexit and the NHS.
3) The Conservatives are doing *really* badly with private renters.
The government are an astonishing 22 points behind in marginal seats with private renters. In the 2010 and 2015 elections this was a group of voters who were fairly evenly split; it was always social renters who were the most likely to vote Labour. But not anymore. We have seen this trend nationally, but it is now being replicated in marginal seats – the so called ‘rentquake’ is not just about Hackney but Hastings and Mansfield. The Conservative vote in marginals is overwhelmingly reliant on those who own their home outright. Though some of this is a function of age, as Matt has discovered – and written about before – among voters at large there is something independent about the experience of being a private renter in England that is driving higher turnout and higher likelihood to vote Labour. As private renting continues to grow, and home ownership and social rent decline, this is something Conservative MPs and strategists should be concerned about.
4) Confidence in the government’s ability to tackle the crisis has been sapped.
Labour has a 14 point lead on the issue of housing, second only – in scale of lead – to the NHS. When asked, “how confident, if at all, are you that the government has the right policies to deal with the countries housing problems?”, a majority of marginal voters (61%) were not confident in the governments policies, including 46% of 2017 Conservative voters.
5) On solutions, marginal voters prioritise building homes at low rents over Help to Buy.
Though home ownership schemes have a reputation in elite circles for being vote winners, this is not necessarily borne out here. When asked what solutions or issues within housing government should prioritise, marginal voters reach for increasing the supply of homes at social rent (39%) above any other solution, including Help to Buy style deposit schemes (31%). Given the vast disparity in resource still given to the latter over the other, there is clearly still a disconnect between voters and politicians on this issue.
6) Housing unites a polarised country.
We live in a divided country and this comes out through the polling. When asked about their priorities, there is a big gap between Remain and Leave voters on most issues – immigration in particular but also crime for instance, both of which play to Leave voting demographics (older, non-graduate) more. However, housing is the only major issue which both Remain and Leave voters say they prioritise in equal measure.
Overall this should re-affirm the belief, common in political circles, that housing is a drag on the government’s ticket with the voters it needs to win. It is not necessarily a reason to despair, however. There has been some positive signs that the Prime Minister is starting to embrace the kind of solutions needed, on both private renting and public housing more recently. As we’ve written about before, however, there is a need for them to push on and deliver these (longer tenancies in particular which seem to be caught up in intra-government dispute), while thinking bigger about the scale of the affordable homes we need to build in particular. At the very least, the government will need to have made some progress on the above indicators to feel confident heading into the next election. There’s a series of big tests coming up that will test how serious they are here, including the Spending Review and Queen’s Speech next year, and of course, party conference this weekend. We will see what they come up with.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattSingh_.