“He’s so toxic he’s worn out his welcome” “He’s the first president I paid attention to because he’s awesome” “There’s a lot of effing stupid people in our country”: My latest US election focus groups

By Lord Ashcroft

This week our virtual focus-group tour of America takes us to two more swing states, one in the rustbelt and one in the sunbelt: Michigan, which voted for the Democrat in every presidential election for 20 years before narrowly backing Donald Trump in 2016, and North Carolina, recently a more Republican-leaning state where polls now give Joe Biden a slim lead.

The week has been dominated by the Senate hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nomination the vacant seat on the Supreme Court following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The issue is the source of fruitless allegations of hypocrisy on all sides: the Democrats furious that the process is happening at all given the Senate’s refusal to confirm an Obama nominee in the months before the 2016 election, and the Republicans pointing out that the nominee in question would certainly have been confirmed if the Democrats had had the votes in the Senate (more…)

“Who says you have to like the President?” “He pretended it wasn’t a big deal and then went and caught it” “I think there might be riots no matter who wins”: My focus groups in Florida and Wisconsin

By Lord Ashcroft

In the weeks before the United States elected Donald Trump in 2016, I conducted focus groups to find out what was on people’s minds in swing states around the country This year, the Ashcroft in America tour is happening via Zoom, but the aim is the same: to hear what voters themselves are thinking as they weigh their decision. This week we begin in Florida and Wisconsin, speaking to voters who backed Trump in 2016 having backed Obama four years earlier and were having second thoughts, Hispanic voters who had helped elect Trump but were now undecided, and centrist Democrats backing Biden with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Our 2016 Trump voters had plenty of complaints, often to do with the way he conducts himself: “We were looking for a complete change and we certainly got that,” says one. “But he fails in my mind with acting the way a President should act;” “He’s arrogant, he’s not honest, and, you know, he’s our leader. So I just don’t feel we have anybody to look up to;” “I thought he was a good candidate versus Clinton. But I also feel like when he got into office, his ego sort of took over. All the Twitter stuff – if you’re the president of a country you don’t need to be doing that at three in the morning (more…)

A New Political Landscape?

By Lord Ashcroft

The covid crisis has dominated the news for so long that it sometimes seems as though politics has gone into suspended animation. But as the agenda moves on, the challenge for parties in consolidating and expanding their coalitions of support remains the same. As I argued in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer each have a conundrum to wrestle with on that front. My latest research, published today, looks in detail at how voters have reacted to the government’s handling of the crisis, what they make of Labour’s new management, and how much – or how little – the pandemic has transformed the political landscape. The full report is below, but here are the main points.

Overall, I found people more likely to think the government had underreacted to the pandemic than overreacted. Half of 2019 Conservative voters thought this – including two thirds of those who had switched from Labour – as well as more than six in ten voters overall (more…)

Voters have turned, but all is not lost for the Tories

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday

It seems scarcely believable that only just over nine months ago a triumphant Boris Johnson was returned to Downing Street with an 80-seat majority that transformed the political map of Britain. The covid crisis has not just derailed the “levelling up” agenda and overshadowed the sunny optimism that was Johnson’s hallmark until the pandemic struck: in political terms it has given the Conservatives a premature case of the midterm blues.

Many voters on all sides take a much more forgiving view of the government’s handling of the crisis than the media coverage might suggest. As I found in my latest research, people spontaneously praise the furlough schemes and the speedy creation of the Nightingale hospitals. Even critics admit that ministers are doing their level best with no precedent to help guide their decisions. In my poll, the proportion saying the government had done a reasonable job in difficult circumstances matched those who thought its handling had made things worse. Boris himself has won some unlikely hearts: “He’s stuck by the British people and done his damnedest to help,” said one 2019 Labour voter explaining his change of heart towards the PM.

But the criticisms are many: why did we not take action sooner, people ask, at the very least by restricting flights from covid-hit countries like China? (more…)

Trump stands a better chance of re-election in November than you may think

By Lord Ashcroft

The Coronavirus has changed the world, at least for the time being. But how much has it changed politics? It would take a brave soul to make any kind of projection about the long-term effects of the times we are living through. But my latest polling in the US, collected in my new report The Home Stretch: Campaigning In The Age Of Coronavirus, suggests that the biggest political effect of the current crisis might not be to change people’s minds, but to make them feel more strongly about what they think already.

In the red corner, we have Donald Trump’s 2016 voters. They have remained loyal throughout his presidency, and I found nine in ten of them approving his performance to date, most of them doing so strongly. Almost as many say he has been at least as good a president as they anticipated, with more than half of them saying he had surpassed their expectations.

They rate him highly on all policy areas, especially the economy, national security, immigration and (despite the impression you might get from Twitter) America’s standing in the world (more…)

Counting on Trump’s performance to see him kicked out? I wouldn’t bet on it…

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday

As a woman in Michigan put it during my latest round of polling in America: “It’s almost painful to watch. I have to change the channel.” But her comment did not refer to the scenes played out in hospitals and elsewhere as the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the US. Instead, she was talking about Donald Trump’s performance alongside doctors and scientists in daily press conferences that have transfixed the nation. “He’s missing the compassion gene,” said another. “He goes off on a tangent about how rich he is and how he doesn’t need a paycheck. It’s not what people need to hear right now.”

Both remarks were from people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but were now having second thoughts. Like many others, they were horrified that the country had seemed so unprepared, with such vital things as ventilators, testing kits and protective equipment for health workers in short supply. People felt the response had been too slow, not least because the President had initially downplayed the seriousness of the situation and had failed to underline its dangers. They lamented a lack of leadership at the national level: “You don’t know who’s in charge, who is the adult in the room,” as one confused observer put it. The President’s references to the “Chinese virus” were considered very unhelpful even by those who thought they contained an element of truth.

These reactions chime with a widespread view that the crisis spells disaster for Trump’s chances of being re-elected in November. Strikingly, though, I found that those most critical of the President – aside from those who had never liked him in the first place – were those who were already disillusioned with him before the current crisis hit (more…)

An open letter to Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the new International Development Secretary

By Lord Ashcroft

Dear Anne-Marie

Congratulations on your elevation to the Cabinet. I was delighted to see your appointment to the post of international development secretary given your unstinting efforts to stand up for British interests as an energetic Brexiteer. I must confess to slight bias, however, given that you retweeted an article of mine from 2013 calling for an end to ring fencing of the foreign aid budget. This gives me renewed hope that we might finally see reform of this money pit.

It was kind of you to say my article was ‘interesting’ on ‘the value (or otherwise) of the overseas aid budget.’ As I argued, it defies all logic to commit Britain to an arbitrary spending target that means we must dole out 0.7 per cent of national income. ‘In what other areas of government do we start not by asking what we want to achieve, but how much of our national income we want to dispense?’ I asked. That was true then and it is even truer today (more…)

If Trump’s opponents don’t learn from Corbyn’s catastrophe, The Donald’s guaranteed four more years

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday

“They take our votes for granted and think we were born yesterday.” So said a former Labour voter last month in the North East of England, reflecting on what had become of the party he once regarded as his own. While Labour had once been for “normal working people, who pay for their house, pay for their car,” it was now mostly for “young people and students, and the unemployed” – that or “middle-class radicals,” and “people in London who go on marches to get rid of Brexit.”

Such views, which emerged in the research for Diagnosis of Defeat, my new report on where Labour stands with the voters following its worst defeat since 1935, tell us even more about the party’s predicament than the election result itself. While senior Labour figures and the party’s own official inquiry claim the outcome was all about Brexit, the truth is that their problems go much deeper. While many did vote to get Brexit done, more serious still was the principle that when it came to the referendum result – but not just that – Labour no longer listened to them. The party had become too left-wing, could not be trusted with the money, and seemed to have adopted values far removed from their own sensible, practical outlook on life. Many described Labour’s manifesto, with its wild spending promises and expensive irrelevancies like free broadband, as “pie in the sky.”

It is Labour members, now pondering the choice of leadership candidates, who will decide which direction to take their party. Meanwhile, in America, a similar drama is being played out. Labour’s recent history should serve as a cautionary tale for their allies in the US Democratic Party as they shape up for their battle with Donald Trump in November’s presidential election. The parallels are not exact, but close enough for the Democrats to beware of enacting a transatlantic sequel to the Corbyn story (more…)

Labour are in a pickle, but the Tories must keep their heads down: lessons from my new polling report

By Lord Ashcroft

Many Conservatives reading Diagnosis of Defeat, my polling report on the Labour Party’s predicament, will probably have felt a flicker of schadenfreude. It is certainly true that Labour have very deep-rooted problems that go well beyond Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, the proximate causes of their disastrous defeat. The belief among former Labour supporters that the party had ceased to represent them while taking their votes for granted had been growing for many years, as they explained in devastating detail in my post-election focus groups.

Worse still, the voters who deserted Labour see the party’s problems in a completely different light from that of many of the members who will decide its future. While Labour “defectors” said they did not want Corbyn to be Prime Minister, distrusted Labour’s policies and felt the party did not listen to them – not least because it had tried to stand in the way of Brexit – members were more likely to blame the media, Conservative lies, and the voters, as well as Brexit for dominating an election in which they felt they would otherwise have been on stronger ground (more…)

Diagnosis of Defeat: Labour’s Turn to Smell the Coffee

By Lord Ashcroft

After the Conservatives lost their third consecutive election in 2005, I published Smell the Coffee: A Wake-Up Call for the Conservative Party. I felt that the Tories had failed to grasp the reasons for their unpopularity and needed a serious reality check if they were ever to find their way back into government. With Labour now having been rejected by the voters four times in a row, I thought it was time to do the same for them.

No doubt some will be suspicious of my motives. I’m a Tory, after all – indeed, a former Deputy Chairman of the party. There are two answers to that. The first is that the country needs a strong opposition. Britain will be better governed if those doing the governing are kept on their toes. Moreover, at its best, the Labour Party has been a great force for decency, speaking up for people throughout the country and ensuring nobody is forgotten. We need it to reclaim that role.

The second answer is that you don’t have to trust me – just listen to what real voters have to say in the research that follows. Last month I polled over 10,000 people, paying particular attention to those who voted Labour in 2017 but not in 2019. We have also conducted 18 focus groups in seats Labour lost, with people who have moved away from the party (often feeling that the party had moved away from them). The report includes extensive quotes from these discussions, since they explain Labour’s predicament better than any analyst could. They are all the more powerful when you consider they come from people who were voting Labour until very recently and probably never expected to do otherwise.

We also polled over 1,000 Labour Party members, and conducted focus groups with members of the party and of Labour-supporting trade unions, to see how the Labour movement’s understanding of the election differs from that of the electorate at large and whether – and how far – they think the party needs to change (more…)