College Green Group Poll Watch: economy slips from Tory grips, Macron leads in final week

Late last week saw the re-emergence of Boris Johnson’s bête noire – Partygate. What looked like a modest Conservative revival in the polls has been completely reversed by the Prime Minister’s receipt of a fixed penalty notice.

Heading into the local elections, the Tories are polling at their weakest against Labour since pre-2015. A governing party should be trailing the Opposition – so this is not too much of an anomaly. What is more notable however, is Labour’s change in fortunes with regards to one specific issue – the economy.

Dogged by decades of mistrust in their ability to handle the nation’s finances, the Labour Party now leads the Conservatives in terms of voter trust and confidence to manage the economy. Redfield & Wilton found that 39% of the public trust Keir Starmer to build a strong economy, while just 33% trust the Prime Minister.

Labour is trusted by 43% of the public to tax and spend wisely, whilst 37% trust the Conservatives, according to an Ipsos MORI poll. Public trust appears to have returned to the party that voters abandoned in droves due to its economic record – this is hugely significant.

Labour also leads the Conservatives as the party the public believes to be ‘best for the British economy’, and leads in public judgement as the ‘best for running the economy’, according to Deltapoll and Opinium.

According to YouGov, 16% of those who voted Labour in 2017, but intended not to in 2019 decided so due to concerns over its policy/economic competence. Another survey from November 2019 found that 57% of voters believe Labour would cause another recession if it won an election, and just 16% trusted Jeremy Corbyn to run the economy. So recent polls represent a stark turnaround for a party that has made moderating its economic policies a key task in returning to power.

Polling from the Daily Mail found the ‘cost of living’ to be the most pressing concern for 69% of those surveyed, whilst the economy and the NHS account for 31% and 27% respectively. Labour now lead on public trust in solving and managing all three.

With a by-election in the new Conservative red wall seat of Wakefield upcoming, local elections in more urban and Labour-friendly areas in two weeks, and the prospect of more fines for the Prime Minister, things could get much worse for Boris Johnson.

A Techne poll for the Sunday Express found that 55% want Johnson to resign, whilst 34% did not want him to. Asked who should replace him, 40% of the public wanted it to be a Conservative outside of Government, whilst 28% and 20% of Conservative members wanted Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, respectively, to step into Number 10.

What would have Millbank rolling its eyes is the notion that Labour should be far further ahead in the polls than they are now. The party has increased its lead to just under 7% this fortnight, so progress has been made, yet double digit leads should be more frequent and constant in this certain situation. The Tories have sunk to 33.5% – their lowest since mid January. In Scotland, as we discussed two weeks ago, Labour has strengthened its second-place position, whittling the SNP lead down to 16% – the party’s lowest against Labour since March 2018. Gains in Scotland are crucial in Labour’s climb to an absolute majority in the Commons.

A test for European populism

Meanwhile, in France, Emmanuel Macron may be dabbing away the sweat prompted by the insurgent Marine Le Pen. The candidacy of the National Rally leader has ebbed away since the first round of voting concluded. Previously enjoying highs of 50.5% of the vote and suggestions she could beat Macron, Le Pen’s support has ebbed, and now sits at around 45%, compared to Macron’s 55%. 

It is significant that a country like France is offering such strong support for Le Pen, but as we wrote previously, she has changed her image to assuage voters’ fears of her, her party and her policies. What we will be watching closely on Sunday is where the exit polls suggest left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters have turned. 

An Ifop survey found half of Mélenchon’s voters without a preference for Macron or Le Pen, whilst 31% broke for Macron, and 18% for his opponent. It also found 44% may even abstain from voting in the second round. A separate poll found 66% would not show up or spoil their ballot, whilst 33% said they would vote for Macron – the choice to vote for Le Pen was not an option. 

Whilst it seems the numbers are on Macron’s side, he cannot afford for a large portion of voters to abstain from voting. As Le Pen has enthusiasm on her side, the President’s campaign cannot afford to be complacent. Based on polls, we would expect the following result:

Finally, based on UK-wide polling, the following results could be expected if a general election were held today:

*Other accounts for the 18 seats in Northern Ireland, plus the Speaker’s seat.