Project Blueprint, launched in May 2011, aimed to examine the state of the Conservative voting coalition and to help identify what the party needed to do to achieve an overall majority at the next election. Phase 2 of the project reviews progress towards that goal. It looks at the government’s performance in the eyes both of those who voted Conservative in 2010, and those who considered doing so but decided not to.
Despite apparently momentous recent events – riots, scandals, and economic turmoil – the polls seem to be stuck. For most of this year, Labour have hovered a few points above the Conservatives, who seem to float around the 37 per cent vote share they received at the general election. This is not a bad achievement for David Cameron, considering some of the decisions the Government has had to make. But to get an overall majority at the next election, the Tory vote is going to have to do more than just hold firm.
What do Cameron and his party need to do to expand its support and put themselves in a position where they could win outright, without having to rely on the Liberal Democrats?
An online poll of 8,001 adults was conducted between 26 and 31 August 2011. Eight focus groups were conducted between 1 and 8 September 2011 in Bury, Nuneaton, London and Northampton: two of people who had voted Conservative in 2010 but were now undecided; two of people who had voted for a party other than the Conservatives but were now undecided; and four of people who had voted for a range of parties in 2010 and were now undecided.
Summary of key points
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The Conservative vote is at least as solid as it was in the first phase of Project Blueprint. In May, the single most important factor for 2010 Tory voters who were staying with the party was a positive view of David Cameron. This time, the proportion of 2010 Tories giving the Prime Minister very high marks for his performance has actually increased.
Three quarters of those switching to the Conservatives from other parties give Cameron very high marks – up from two thirds in Phase 1. However, the best predictor of whether former Labour or Liberal Democrat voters will switch to the Tories is whether or not they think the Conservatives have the best approach to the economy.
Conservative voters and ‘considerers’ shared similar perspectives on most policy issues. On the NHS, some were aware that proposed reforms were amended following a listening exercise, but there was continued confusion about how the changes were intended to benefit patients. There was doubt as to how the government hopes to be more effective on crime if it is cutting police numbers. On immigration, there was uncertainty as to whether the government was delivering on the policies that participants had supported before the election. More broadly, there was a feeling that policy decisions in all areas were being driven by an overriding focus on deficit reduction, perhaps to the detriment of the economy in general and other areas of national life.
Overall, there is uncertainty about the prospects for Britain not just in the short and medium term but for decades to come. Their anxieties include job security, pensions, and longer term prospects for their children.
From the individual voter’s point of view, spending cuts that affect others seem necessary and unavoidable, while those affecting him or her are too deep and too quick. The Eurozone debt crisis adds an extra dimension. Most people’s first reaction is to wonder whether Britain will have to contribute to bailouts, and their willingness to do so is not enhanced by the fact that they see the crisis as cultural as much as economic – that is, Britain could never be quite as profligate and irresponsible as Greece. At the same time, some voters are relieved that their own government is taking steps to prevent the debt problem getting completely out of hand.
The scale of the crisis is such that most people do not feel qualified to judge between policy prescriptions. Though the government in general seems competent and David Cameron is getting to grips with urgent problems, it is hard for them to tell how they are doing week by week – the Prime Minister is not like a football manager, as one focus group participant put it. Voters are in the uncomfortable position of having to hope the government knows what it is doing. Most feel Labour is not yet offering a credible alternative.
Nevertheless, many voters would be more reassured if they felt that addressing the deficit were part of a wider economic strategy, and understood how it fits into a broader plan for improving life in Britain. They see the deficit as one of a range of things to be dealt with, including crime, improving public services and restoring the economy to growth. This is particularly the case among considerers whom the Conservatives need to attract in order to win a majority.
The Conservative voting coalition
The original Project Blueprint analysis, based on polling from January 2011, identified the key drivers of Conservative support. It also divided the electorate into segments according to their characteristics – including how they voted in 2010, their views of the party leaders, which party has the best policies on different issues, and their opinion of each party’s attributes – and identified each segment’s propensity to vote Conservative. In Phase 2, based on polling in August 2011, we have tracked the changing size of these segments, and any shift in their likelihood of voting Conservative.
Of the Conservatives’ 36% vote share, 32% had voted Conservative at the 2010 election (89% of current Conservative voters – slightly up from 86% in the initial Project Blueprint). The section of the Conservative vote rating David Cameron at 8 out of 10 or above is up from 24% to 28%; those rating him at 7 or below have dropped from 9% to 4%. Over three quarters of the current Tory vote share is accounted for by 2010 Tory voters who rate David Cameron’s performance at 8 out of 10 or better.
4% of voters said they would vote Conservative in an election tomorrow although they had not done so in 2010 (down from 5% in Phase 1). Practically all of these voters thought the Conservatives had the best approach to the economy and awarded high marks to David Cameron.
The number in each bottom box shows the number of individuals in that group, out of a total sample of 6,127. The percentage in each top box shows the proportion of the group saying they would vote Conservative in an election tomorrow. E.g. of the 1,491 people in our sample who voted Conservative in May 2010, 85.66% said they would vote Conservative in an election tomorrow.
For those who voted Conservative in 2010, their view of David Cameron was the factor most closely associated with their likelihood of doing so again. Nearly 94% of those who awarded him 8 or more out of 10 for his performance said they would vote Conservative at the next election, falling to just under two thirds of those who gave him 5 out of 10.
Those who awarded David Cameron 6 or 7 out of 10 were considerably more likely to say they would vote Conservative again if they also thought the party had the best approach to welfare; among those who did not, those who thought the Conservatives “share my values” were more than five times as likely to say they would vote Conservative again as those who did not.
For 2010 Labour voters, the factor most closely associated with whether or not they plan to vote Conservative is the economy. A quarter of 2010 Labour voters who now think the Conservatives are best on the economy say they would vote Tory tomorrow, compared to 0.16% who would not. In other words, former Labour voters are 157 times more likely to switch to the Conservatives if they think the party has the best approach to the economy.
2010 Lib Dem voters are on average 29 times more likely to say they would vote Conservative tomorrow if they think the Tories have the best approach to the economy. As with former Labour voters, a quarter say they will switch if they think the Conservatives are best on the economy, rising to 40% if they give very high marks to David Cameron and 53% if they also think the Conservatives are best on welfare. Those who give slightly lower marks to David Cameron are very much more likely to switch to the Conservatives if they agree that the Conservative Party shares their values.
Click here to see my commentary on the research, published in the Daily Mail.