From the TUC

The TUC’s 2015 election post-mortem poll

21 May 2015, by in Politics

When the TUC commissioned a poll to go straight into the field the day after the election, we had no idea what the result would be. Now it has a painful relevance to Labour’s post mortem, and emerging leadership debate.

As the TUC is making the poll’s findings public – and it is available online in a whizzy interactive format thanks to James Morris and GQR who conducted the poll, my thoughts have no special insight. Other people can look at what is a rich data set and draw their own conclusions.

First a few words about polling in the wake of the industry’s failure to predict the result. To predict an election result polls need to measure opinion very accurately. This is not what we are looking for in the TUC poll. Most of the interesting questions are a forced choice between pairs of statements to find out whether opinion broadly comes down on side or the other.

This provides fascinating insights into what voters think, but polls do not tell you how to win elections. You cannot simply find out what people support and feed it back to them. Voters are allowed to be inconsistent, but parties cannot. Successful politics is as much about leading and forming public opinion as following it. Politicians who publicly discuss changing their policy because it does not poll well may well be thought by voters to be prepared to say anything to get elected.

Having studied and presented many polls to audiences over the years, I am acutely aware that we all tend to look for the questions that confirm our views and tend to suppress and forget those that do not help. I stress that because this poll will not make easy reading for anyone involved in Labour’s debate. Some findings support positions that people are taking in the debate, but others will make people uncomfortable.

So let’s look at what the poll tells us. 13 per cent of voters considered voting Labour before choosing another party. As these are the voters most likely to be won to a successful Labour campaign we have looked at their views in detail.

This is what they liked about Labour:

Which TWO of the following were the strongest reasons to vote LABOUR?

All voters

Considered Labour

They are more on the side of ordinary working people 

32

48

They would improve the NHS

32

44

They would do more to tackle inequality

18

27

They would be good for public services in general

17

24

They would keep Britain in Europe

11

17

They would make my family better off

7

11

I prefer Ed Miliband to David Cameron

5

9

Other

9

2

Don’t know

31

8

And this is what they did not like:

Which TWO of the following most put you off voting LABOUR?

All voters

Considered Labour

They would spend too much and can’t be trusted with the economy

40

30

They would be bossed around by Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Nationalists

24

29

They would make it too easy for people to live on benefits

25

26

They would raise taxes

14

20

I prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband

17

18

They would not hold a referendum on Europe

14

15

They are hostile to aspiration, success and people who want to get on

10

8

Other

9

11

Don’t know

19

16

The reasons to vote for Labour are not that surprising, though note how low was the belief that Labour would make families better off, despite the Party’s emphasis on living standards.

The reasons not to vote Labour are much more interesting. Many have said that Labour’s main problem was being seen as hostile to aspiration, yet this poll finds it was the least supported reason for not backing Labour. The top two causes were economic trust and the SNP factor. Incumbent parties always play on fear of change. The Conservative campaign was very successful at that.

Welfare also put off significant numbers of potential voters. Opposition to the bedroom tax did not neutralise wider concerns about benefit abuse. While there has always been popular concern about cheating in the welfare system I don’t recall it being seen as important in an election before.

Another popular reason now given for Labour losing votes was appearing anti-business or too against ‘the rich’. Sometimes this is part of a critique that says Labour appeared too left wing in general (though criticism of banks and big business is by no means confined to people who would describe themselves as left wing.)

Poll respondents were given the choice of pair of statements on all of these. The evidence does not support either assertion.

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

Labour is too SOFT on big business and the banks.

42

50

Labour is too TOUGH on big business and the banks

22

15

difference

20

36

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

Labour should increase taxes on the rich.

46

61

Labour is too tough on investors and wealthy people and risks driving them abroad

35

21

difference

11

40

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

Labour should be more LEFT wing

19

27

Labour should be more RIGHT wing.

22

16

difference

-3

11

Note the low scores on either side of the left/right split as many people either said neither or did not know, suggesting that they thought Labour was about right or did not care.

So if these issues do not provide the explanation, what do? I would identify two broad areas that caused problems for Labour.

First are two social policy areas where Labour’s instincts (and certainly mine) are out of line with the public. These are welfare and immigration.

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

Labour should do more to protect the social security safety net and those in need.

25

34

Labour should be tougher on those abusing the welfare system

63

54

difference

-39

-20

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

Labour should be more POSITIVE about the benefits of immigration.

20

30

Labour should be TOUGHER on immigration

62

55

difference

-42

-25

Handling these issues is not easy, and it may be that Labour cannot expect to win on them. After all the Conservatives won despite never persuading people that the NHS was safe in their hands – an issue important for many voters.

It may well be that there is not a great deal that Labour can do about these issues. A strong positive campaign before the election may not have shifted views a great deal, and a ‘tougher’ policy stance would lose votes from people with strong views in favour of a welfare safety net or the benefits of immigration.

But it would be wrong to ignore them in a post-election debate. These are important issues for the kind of voter that Labour was in a battle for with UKIP. If Labour cannot beat UKIP’s appeal on immigration, then are there other issues that it can own that are important to these voters?

I have left to last what I think is the overwhelming reason that Labour did not get enough votes and that is the issue of competence, particularly economic competence. We have already seen some of the evidence for this – the top reason for not voting Labour was “They would spend too much and can’t be trusted with the economy”. Here is some further evidence:

Which party do you feel more confident to deal with the issue of the economy overall

voters

Considered Labour

Conservative

63

57

Labour

24

30

 

Labour

Conservative

How well does ‘competent’ describe the Labour/ConservativeParty?

voters

Considered Labour

voters

Considered Labour

Well or quite well

31

44

57

52

Not too well or not well at all

62

48

37

42

difference

-30

-4

21

10

 

Labour

Conservative

How well does has a good track record in government?

voters

Considered Labour

voters

Considered Labour

Well or quite well

27

36

31

44

Not too well or not well at all

67

57

62

48

difference

-41

-20

-30

-4

What put people off Labour was primarily a sense that you could not trust the party to govern competently, particularly if it did not have a majority. There are many aspects of Conservative policy and approach that people do not like, but in the end they looked a safer bet.

Labour was remarkably united in the run up to the election, but that unity seemed to prevent a proper debate and evaluation of its record in government. This is how the economic nonsense that Labour spending caused the crash or that it spent “too much” – now widely believed – was allowed to become the “common sense”.

But while the poll does not tell Labour how to build a reputation for competence, what might seem a tempting short cut to some of embracing austerity does not receive support.

The poll sample was split into two to test two different alternatives to the Conservative approach. Both won.

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

The best way to grow our economy is to make sure working people feel better off and are more comfortable spending.

48

57

The best way to grow our economy is to get the deficit under control, cut taxes and cut red tape

42

34

difference

6

23

Much closer or somewhat closer to my views

voters

considered Labour

The best way to grow our economy is to boost productivity by investing in education, infrastructure and technology.

48

57

The best way to grow our economy is to get the deficit under control, cut taxes and cut red tape

40

30

difference

8

27

This inevitably only skims the surface of a deep and rich poll. Its big size means its subsamples are relatively robust. But while it may be a bit dull and unideological, Labour’s fundamental problem appears to be a failure to present itself as competent to run the economy. The poll does not tell us how that might be done. In practice it will be a complex combination of policy, character and above all a clear sense of what Labour thinks is wrong with the economy and what needs to be done to improve it. What is striking so far in Labour’s leadership debate is that no-one is talking economics beyond vague talk of having spent too much (on what?) or being more pro-business (which and how?).

3 Responses to The TUC’s 2015 election post-mortem poll

  1. Nickie Aspeotis
    May 22nd 2015, 8:08 am

    I think this just proves how successful the Tory scaremongering has been, aided by the right wing Tory press.
    In my opinion, Labour said too little, too late and never spoke of all it DID DO whilst in power.
    I also think all politicians – Tory, Labour and Lib Dem – have really lost touch and are just well off, middle class men who haven’t a clue what it’s like for the rest of us.
    I hope to retire in the next 18 months and want to do something to help bring people back to a more caring society. Whilst a member of the Labour party, I don’t at the moment see much direct action there and will be interested in being more involved in the TUC as at least they are picking up on what people actually want and may be of more influence. It is my belief that we must do as much as possible to unionise workers and give some real power back to the people, so I will appreciate updates from yourselves.

  2. Silent Hunter
    May 25th 2015, 8:46 pm

    Labour will only start appearing competent on the economy when the Tories stop appearing so; however, we can not (and most certainly should not) hope for another recession to happen soon.

    In five years, the public may want a change, but it’s too early to tell.

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