Labour voters are more likely than Conservative supporters to think badly of people who back the other party, according to new polling research.
Labour supporters are also much more likely than Tories to hold “extreme” positions in political issues, making it harder for them to accept compromises. Meanwhile, Labour now has less support among Conservative-leaning voters than it had in 2016 under Jeremy Corbyn.
The findings come in new polling by Opinium and the Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think-tank, showing Keir Starmer’s challenge in building a broad coalition of voters.
Full details of the polling will be revealed in events at the Labour and Conservative conferences, with the first coming on Monday at the Labour gathering in Brighton.
The research shows the difficulties Labour faces in appealing to the supporters of other parties – especially Conservatives – without alienating its current backers. Almost half of Labour supporters – 46% — say they would feel negatively about a friend or family member who voted Conservative.
By contrast, 15% of Conservative voters said the same thing about a friend or family member voting Labour.
Labour voters are also more “extreme” than their Tory counterparts, saying they hold stronger opinions.
In 15 questions about political issues, people were shown two opposing statements on each issue and asked to place themselves on a scale between the two. Labour voters were much more likely to tick the options at the very end of the scales. Tory voters were more likely to place themselves somewhere in the middle of each scale.
Overall, 60% of Labour voters put themselves at the “extreme” end of the scale on at least half of the questions. That was true of 38% of Conservative voters
The research also shows that the current Labour vote is harder to hold together because it is made up of several groups of people with different outlooks. By contrast, Tory support is based on a narrower range of opinion-groups.
The Opinium/SMF research is an update of polling carried out in for a 2016 SMF report that identified eight distinct “tribes” of voters:
- Democratic Socialists
- Swing voters
- New Britain
- Free Liberals
- Common Sense
- Our Britain
Almost 60% of Tory supporters are drawn from just two groups – Common Sense and Our Britain. By contrast, Labour support is divided more evenly across the tribes, with no single group making up more than a quarter of the Labour vote.
Labour is has become less appealing to the core Tory voter groups. In 2016, the researchers found that 32% of Labour’s supporters came from the Common Sense and Our Britain groups. In 2021, that has dropped to 19%.
Adam Drummond, Head of Political Polling at Opinium said: “Labour faces the twin challenge of its voter coalition holding a more diverse range of ideological views than the Conservatives and holding these views more strongly with Labour voters.
“Harold Wilson once said that the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing but Labour’s problem is finding a way to connect with people who don’t see politics in those terms without losing the votes of those that do take that view”.
James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation, said: “Too much of our political debate is based on the premise that those who disagree with us are bad people. Britain must break out of purity-spiral politics and re-learn the art of good-faith disagreement.
“Politics works best when parties seek to win over each others’ voters, not denounce them as bad people just for holding a different view. Democratic politics requires disagreement in good faith and an honest competition between parties seeking to win over each others’ voters.
“To succeed in a general election, Labour needs to build a broader coalition of voters, which means winning over Tory supporters. The first step on that path is accepting that those who hold different opinions aren’t bad people.”