- Working-class voters are abandoning the Conservatives as the cost of living crisis bites – and shoring up their support needs to be the party’s overwhelming priority
- That is the main message in ‘The New Majority’, a new report by the Centre for Policy Studies and policy research agency Public First, which examines the changes to the Conservative electorate since 2019, and the concerns and values that unite and divide Tory voters
- The report is based on extensive new polling and focus group work led by author James Frayne
- While the New Majority is primarily bound by British patriotism, it is fracturing as living costs rocket and less affluent, working-class voters start to believe the Conservatives have let them down
- While many working-class voters have abandoned the Tories, they have not yet been convinced by Keir Starmer’s Labour party. The report argues that the Conservatives can maintain a winning coalition by persuading less affluent ‘daily strugglers’ and ‘stressed workers’ that they are on their side – starting with a suitable response to the cost of living crisis
- By contrast, it shows that more affluent voters in the ‘Blue Wall’ are somewhat more insulated from economic pressures, and less likely to defect from the Party
Across the spring and summer, Public First and the Centre for Policy Studies have been carrying out a comprehensive new programme of opinion research – including a major new poll of the political landscape and 10 focus groups among swing voters across the country – designed to map out the state of the ‘New Majority’ that delivered Boris Johnson’s landslide victory in 2019.
The resulting report argues that the centre-right in Britain is best understood by breaking it down into four groups: working-class Leave voters (the ‘daily strugglers’), working-class Remain voters (the ‘stressed workers’), affluent Leave voters (the ‘comfortable traditionalists’) and affluent Remain voters (the ‘good lifers’).
While the Conservatives have been steadily dropping in the polls since the winter, it is the daily strugglers and stressed workers – the less affluent, working-class voters – who have peeled away in greatest numbers, with roughly a quarter of each group saying they will no longer vote Conservative. This has been made worse by a perception among many that the Government has failed to respond adequately to the cost of living crisis.
Many of the working-class voters who voted Conservative for the first time at the 2019 election and helped to deliver a 80-seat majority don’t currently feel that anyone is ‘on their side’ and feel ‘forgotten’. Working-class voters, who make up 40% of the Tory vote, are ‘seething’ at a perceived failure of the Government to get a grip of the cost of living crisis, which 79% of 2019 Conservative voters rate among the most important issues facing them and their families. Almost 60% of all voters now blame the Government for the cost of living crisis – and 42% of Tory voters say that the Government could be reducing the cost of living, but is choosing not to.
Author James Frayne argues the status of the Conservatives’ New Majority depends on their ability to help less affluent, working-class voters through the cost of living crisis – and then develop a strategy to show them the party is on their side. This should be based on an economic policy that shows how the free market can deliver for ordinary consumers and helps level up the country. The strategy should also speak to working-class voters’ values – particularly fairness and quiet patriotism.
On the economy, the survey also found that all voters, not just Conservatives, would prefer the Government to spend less and tax less rather than spend more and tax more. Voters also strongly supported the use of tax cuts to ease cost of living pressures. However, working-class Conservatives felt that such cuts should overwhelmingly prioritise those worst affected, such as themselves.
The polling found that voters generally approve of the Johnson Government’s priorities, rating many of its big ideas such as Net Zero or levelling up as good ideas, but often viewing them as having been badly executed.
The research also argues that, while voters are not crying out for a war on woke – and indeed view identity politics as a distraction from more pressing issues – the four groups within the Conservative coalition are united by a pride in Britain and its history and a desire to see it defended against attacks from the left.
They are also however increasingly sceptical about government waste, big business and in particular the energy companies, who they perceive as profiting from others’ economic misfortune.
Other key findings from the polling included:
- Over 90% of those polled were worried about rising inflation and rising costs. Some 54% expected to make small changes to their lifestyle and spending habits with a further 30% expecting to make big changes.
- Some 49% of the public wanted the government to spend less and tax less, vs 15% who wanted it to spend more and tax more. This included large majorities of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters.
- 59% of voters, and 65% of working-class Tories, said the state of their local high street had got worse over the past decade.
- Reducing the cost of living by cutting taxes was more popular than spending more to help people with their costs.
James Frayne, report author and founding partner at Public First, said: ‘Not only are poorer voters the ones who are peeling off in the largest numbers right now, but the attention required to maintain their support and deal with the cost of living challenge will not irritate or alienate the other parts of the electoral coalition. For the new Prime Minister, the result is an extraordinary challenge – but also, potentially, an extraordinary opportunity.’
Robert Colvile, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, said: ‘Conversative voters want to see the economy work for ordinary families. They understand the case for tax cuts, particularly to help them through this crisis, and want a government that focuses on and delivers on their priorities.’