(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is doing worse than his short-lived predecessor Liz Truss among the voters that last put the Conservative Party in power, as many flock to the right-wing Reform Party, a pollster has found.
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Sunak has presided over a “year of decline” that’s caused an “implosion” in the Tory vote, putting the opposition Labour Party firmly on course for power, according to a deep-dive analysis of polls conducted in Britain in the last 18 months, carried out by JL Partners.
Just 59% of voters who backed the Conservatives under Boris Johnson at the 2019 election are sticking with the party under Sunak, the report found. That’s down from 74% in August 2022, and from 63% in the aftermath of Truss’s disastrous “mini-budget” in September 2022, which roiled markets and brought about the abrupt end of her premiership. That event had been seen as the polling nadir for the governing Tory party.
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It’s the rise of Reform UK, a right-wing anti-immigration party founded with the support of former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, that’s most hurting the polling performance of the Conservatives under Sunak, JL Partners said.
While some 5% of 2019 Tory voters have switched to the centrist Liberal Democrat party, 15% are now backing Reform. That’s around 1.5 million people. Reform has overtaken the Liberal Democrats as the third party in the North of England, Midlands and Wales, the report found, with the latter party now polling worse than its 2019 result. Around 18% of 2019 Tory votes have gone to Labour.
Asked if Farage would be welcome to join the Tories, Sunak told reporters on his trip to the COP28 summit: “Our party has always been a broad church.”
In a sign of the struggles Sunak’s government has faced in recent weeks, the Tories have lost a net 520,000 votes since the prime minister’s speech at the Conservative Party conference at the beginning of October, it also found.
The report will pile pressure on Sunak, who has failed to close the gap with Labour leader Keir Starmer, leading to reports of increasing frustration in Downing Street and among senior ministers in the Cabinet.
Sunak is due to make a decision on a new migration policy after his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda was ruled unlawful by the UK’s top court last month. That call — and how far Sunak is willing to push Britain’s commitments to international human rights pacts in order to enact a hardline migration policy — risks angering both centrist and right-wing lawmakers in his party.
MPs on the right are likely to seize on the polling as they make the case for a tougher approach on borders.
JL Partners analyzed data from nine polling firms covering July 2022 to November 2023, including their own, to plot the voting intention of 2019 Conservative voters. The study provides a deeper and more nuanced picture of public opinion ahead of the next general election than typical top-line voting intention surveys, which offer a snapshot of opinion at a moment in time, the pollster said. An election is due in UK by January 2025.
The only respite for Sunak in the data is that around half of voters who say they are undecided are expected to vote Conservative on election day, according to the firm’s modeling. A “shy Tory” effect could reduce Labour’s margin of victory, but was unlikely to save the Conservatives, the report concluded.
“Rishi Sunak can count on some undecided voters to narrow the Labour lead, and the British public is hardly elated by the prospect of a Labour government,” James Johnson, the founder of JL Partners, said. “That’s where the good news for the Tories stops: They are in dire straits.”
(Updates with Sunak comment in sixth paragraph.)
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