Labour are ahead in the polls, but have they won hearts and minds? These charts suggest not

<span>Polling suggests voters are not as satisfied with Keir Starmer as they were with Tony Blair or David Cameron.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Design/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock/Getty/Murdo MacLeod</span>
Polling suggests voters are not as satisfied with Keir Starmer as they were with Tony Blair or David Cameron.Composite: Guardian Design/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock/Getty/Murdo MacLeod

As 2014 came to a close, it seemed Ed Miliband would be the next prime minister, with the Labour party leading David Cameron’s Conservatives as the general election approached.

But when the May 2015 results came in, it was Cameron who headed back to Downing Street.

Miliband’s loss is still fresh in the memory, with Labour strategists nervous that Keir Starmer’s large polling lead could erode as the general election nears.

While Labour’s lead in voting intention polls is significantly larger than Miliband’s in 2014, there are several underlying data points that explain those anxieties.

When looking at the feelings the public holds about the main parties, Ipsos Mori polling shows many people view Starmer’s Labour party in a similarif not worselight to Miliband’s as they both approached election time.


The proportion of those polled who said Labour was fit to govern was 31% in April 2024, compared with 41% in September 2014. Only 24% of people now say that Labour has a good team of leaders compared with 31% then, while 39% of people say that Labour understands the problems facing Great Britain, compared with 52% then.

These numbers show that the public has not changed its mind significantly on Labour. In fact, on all four of the measures analysed by the Guardian, perceptions are more negative than in 2014.

The big difference between 2024 and 2014? The crash in support for the Conservatives. Only 12% of the public thought the Tories had a good team of leaders in September 2023, compared with 40% in 2014. And 15% thought they were fit to govern in April, compared with 51% then – a drop of 36 points in 10 years.

Gideon Skinner, the head of political research at Ipsos, said: “In many ways, perceptions of the Labour party’s image under Keir Starmer are not that different to under Ed Miliband – even down on some measures. The main difference now is that perceptions of the Conservative party today are very much worse, so when it comes to making comparisons Labour are well ahead, including, of course, in voting intentions.

“If the Conservatives can rebuild their reputation, especially on competence, Labour could find their position not as strong as it looks. Bbut time is running out for Rishi Sunak’s party to change minds after nearly a decade and a half in office.”

Aside from headline voting intention polls, another important factor in deciding elections is net satisfaction ratings in politicians.

Data from Ipsos Mori shows how, since 1977, net satisfaction in the leader of the opposition has served as a predictor of how the party then performed in the general election.

As Tony Blair and Cameron – the only two successful leaders of the opposition in the dataset – approached a general election, they had positive net satisfaction ratings, at +22 and +3 respectively. Starmer is a long way off this level.


Starmer’s latest net satisfaction rating was -31 points in April. This is significantly lower than Cameron’s rating at the same point in his tenure as opposition leader, when his rating was +8.

It represents Starmer’s worst rating as Labour leader, and is roughly equivalent to the ratings Miliband and William Hague were receiving after a similar time in office.

However, focusing on Starmer’s absolute net satisfaction rating is not as important as looking at his relative performance against Sunak, according to Joe Twyman, the director of the public opinion consultancy Deltapoll. The latest Ipsos Mori data has Sunak’s net satisfaction rating at -59 points.

Twyman said: “That’s what you need to pay attention to. Starmer doesn’t necessarily need to beat Blair or Cameron; he just needs to beat Sunak. It may be the case that Labour’s lead is a bit soft, and that may lose a few points [come polling day], but I would not be that worried while Rishi Sunak is so low in the polls.”

Polls have shown that Labour has had a commanding lead since 2022, fluctuating at about 20 points ahead of the Conservatives. While these leads are weaker than those Blair enjoyed between 1994 and 1998, they still point to a majority Labour government after the next election.


Twyman pointed to voting history to highlight that any lack of enthusiasm for Labour was likely to be insignificant compared with the Tories’ unpopularity.

“It’s never been the case that a party has won when they’re behind on leadership and economic management,” he told the Guardian.

YouGov data shows that Labour has been ahead on handling the economy since October 2022 – when Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget was announced.


Pointing to this fiscal event, as well as the damage done by the Partygate scandal, the politics professor John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, agreed that the current polling position mainly reflected a drop in support for the Conservatives rather than a sharp rise in support for Labour – but that this would not make much difference to the likely outcome of a Labour government.

Curtice said: “This will be an election about competence, rather than policy positions. About who you think can run the shop, not what goods are in the shop.

“While Starmer is not greeted with enthusiasm, at least people can imagine him in Downing Street. So [Labour] have done enough to make them acceptable – in the face of a government making mistakes, they are the institution to which the public can turn.”

The Guardian has launched its live poll tracker in the run-up to the election.


The latest data indicates that Labour has an average national polling lead of 20 points.