Boris Johnson’s handling of coronavirus has lost the Conservatives significant numbers of new supporters, a major new poll has found.
The prime minister has been fighting to solidify the gains he made at last year’s general election, particularly across the so-called “red wall” of traditional Labour heartlands.
But a new report has found that 42% of those who voted Tory in the 2019 election – but did not back the party in 2017 – no longer intend to do so.
That is much higher than the 18% of people who voted for them at both the last two elections but have since defected.
The survey from June found that among 2019 Conservative voters, only 53% said the government was handling the COVID-19 pandemic well or very well, while 24% judged it had been bad or very bad.
“When a quarter of a governing party’s recent voters think it is managing poorly on the most important issue facing the country, it is clear that these evaluations are not purely an expression of past political affiliation,” said the British Election Study, which is behind the research.
It found that Tory voters were not defecting because of a libertarian anti-lockdown agenda, despite the emergence of some of those voices on the right – including from Nigel Farage’s new Reform Party.
“Conservative defectors who criticise the government’s handling of the crisis tend to actually be rather more in favour of the government using extensive measures to tackle the virus, not less,” the report concluded.
It added that Tory backbenchers need not necessarily be so worried about losing voters over the idea of restrictive measures under the regional restriction system of tiers.
“Our analysis suggests that voters are far less concerned with the principle and far more disgruntled at what is perceived to be a rather poor execution,” the report said.
Whether those voters worked in the public sector or received emergency financial support through things like the furlough scheme had “no significant association” with defection rates, as well.
“Competence reputations, once damaged, are very difficult to recover,” the report said.
“The Conservatives will hope that the damage done to the party will be healed once the coronavirus crisis is over.”
At the time the survey was done, over 30,000 people in the UK had already died with coronavirus – a figure that has since more doubled.
The analysis does hold some hope for the Conservatives, according to its authors, which is that those who have defected have switched to undecided – instead of either Labour or the Liberal Democrats.
Ben Bradly, a Tory MP who flipped the Mansfield constituency blue for the first time in 2017, told Sky News he could understand voters’ concerns, but the next election is still far off.
“Clearly it’s incredibly difficult to keep people happy in a global pandemic,” he said.
“None of us are happy are we, really?
“No government in the world has been perfect, it’s not possible.
“In the long term though we’ll be judged on how we recover from this over the coming years, and whether those red wall seats feel any better off at the end of it.
“I’m confident that’s top of the agenda, and 2024 is a long way away.”
And Damien Moore, another northern Conservative who took his seat from the Lib Dems in 2017, told Sky News: “We need to be seen to be delivering with the levelling up agenda. People will need to see and feel that it is worth voting for us.”
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