Time to Think the Unthinkable?

We are now less than a week away from heading to the polling booths, and suddenly, we seem to have an actual contest on our hands. Over the past month, the Tories lead has collapsed. Their average polling lead has fallen from 16% in early April, to just 5.3% now, and YouGov has even gone as far to predict a possible hung parliament at this stage. Britain Elects, who use the polls of polls average, have the Tories increasing their majority to roughly 70, but this is still a long way off the 150+ majority we looked to be heading towards just a few weeks ago. The question many are asking, could Corbyn do it?

One of the main reasons for the turn in fortunes has been both parties’ campaign performances, which like the poll turn, looked highly unlikely a few weeks ago. It’s clear that May’s campaign has damaged her reputation among the public, and the Conservative’s campaign has been to put it frank, shocking. From the lack of costings in the published manifesto, to the dreaded ‘Dementia Tax’, and the refusal to turn up at the recent live television debates, May’s impregnable brand has taken a big hit. For the first time since she took office, more Britons are dissatisfied (50%) than satisfied with her performance as PM (43%), although she does still hold a sizable lead in popularity over Corbyn.

On the other hand, Corbyn’s popularity is on the rise. Last month roughly 15% thought he’d make a better PM than May, this has grown to roughly 35% now. Whether it’s a heck of a lot of media training, unity across the Labour Party, or a willingness to adapt, it has brought improvements. Corbyn and Labour have had a positive campaign so far, although they have been given a helping hand by May and the Tories. Corbyn has shown in the past that it’s within election campaigns he seems to shine brightest, and his performances in debates has shown huge advances.

Another positive for Labour has been their manifesto. As I stated previously here, Labour’s manifesto policies have received widespread support from the public. 58% support re-nationalising the railways, water companies, and other utilities, 61% support the increase in minimum wage, 52% support increasing the top rate of tax, 64% back abolishing zero-hour contracts, 53% want universal free school meals for primary school students, and 59% back better rent control. But the truth of the matter is, we’ve seen this all before. We’ve seen much of these election signs before.

Firstly, the polling data. Now, Labour’s surge in the polls has predominantly been down to an increase in female and young people’s voting intentions, and, projected youth turnout rates. The YouGov hung parliament projection had young voter turnout in the mid 60’s; compare this to 2015 where barely 50% of young people made their way to the polls. But it’s all déjà vu really. As highlighted by Election Data, a week before the election in 2015, a YouGov poll revealed 60% of 18-24s intended to vote. 43% turned out the following week. 14% more young people registered to vote in 2015 compared to 2010, but turnout still dropped 1%. Labour’s performance once again relies on non-voters, and young voters, and traditionally, this doesn’t work.

As highlighted in Rob Ford’s thread, Clegg was relying on youth turnout in 2010, it didn’t turn out. Older voters swung the vote in favour of “No” in the 2014 IndyRef. Miliband’s polling leads were driven by young people’s turnout rates, and they didn’t show up. And, finally, ‘Remain’ needed high youth turnout to take them over the line last year, but older voters swung the vote for Leave.

Labour also are traditionally known for being overstated in the polls, especially when in opposition. In 1992 the polls had Labour leading, they lost badly. In 1997 and 2001, the polls had Labour hitting 50%, and they got 43, and 41% respectively. In 2015 the polls had the Tories and Labour level on the final day, but in the end the Conservatives finished 7% ahead. In fact, on average over the last 7 elections, Labour poll 4.4% higher than they achieve on election day. And let’s not forget, policy approval is not an indicator of final results.

In 2015, Miliband’s manifesto was also very popular with voters, but it failed to compensate for a lack of economic credibility and leader scepticism, something which once again rings true now. In 2001, the Conservatives unveiled tax cuts that was favourable with voters, but they lost heavily, and they still lost in 2005 when pushing popular immigration pledges. Popular policies are simply a small piece of the election puzzle.

Another problem for Labour is where they are currently stockpiling their votes. Polling data is showing that, unfortunately, Labour is piling up wasted votes in safe Labour and safe Tory seats, something ultimately taking them no closer to an election victory. Labour are surging in areas such as London, Wales, and the South, but are showing no improvements in the heartlands and marginal seats, the seats they need to have any chance of entering No10 next week. This is partially down to the young voters that Labour are currently becoming reliant on, but also because of the campaign Labour have run to this point.

Back when the election campaign was called, Labour was 15-20% behind in the polls, and Corbyn and his allies were simply operating in survival mode. They knew an election victory at that time was out of the question, but they weren’t going to see his wing of the parties’ project go up in flames. So, they’ve spent most of the campaign in safe Labour and Tory seats to shore up Labour’s vote share, in the hope of clinging onto the party leadership. Even the leadership didn’t see this past month happening. If Corbyn and Labour had been campaigning in marginals and swing constituencies since the election was called, Labour’s chances might be even greater.

Another problem, is the geography of Labour’s surging young voters. There are 76 seats where 18-24 year olds outnumber the over 65s, and Labour already hold 57 of them. And in the marginals that Labour needs, it’s a very different story. As highlighted by Election Data, in seats where Labour are defending a majority of less than 5,000, over 65s outnumber 18-24s by an average of 5,000 voters, and in seats where the Conservatives are defending a majority of less than 5,000, over 65s outnumber 18-24s by an average of 7,602 voters. And the older voters are remaining loyal to May. It’s looking likely that Labour will increase their vote share on 2015, but win less seats overall.

What’s also tough to calculate in terms of seats is the evident swing back to two-party politics during this election campaign. Latest polls are showing the Tories and Labour having a combined vote share of more than 80%, levels not seen the 1980s, and there’s multiple reasons for this. The biggest, is the decline of UKIP. UKIP’s vote share is currently polling at a third of what they achieved in 2015, and most of these are siphoning off towards the Tories. The Liberal Democrats are at best holding steady, mostly down to their hapless leader, and the Greens are losing voters to Corbyn’s more radical Labour.

Arguably the biggest issue for Labour, similarly to that of 2015, are the key issues where the Conservatives are simply more trusted by the public. In polling, Tories still lead on the important issues that matter to the public; they lead 33-23 on the economy, 36-16 on Brexit, 34-16 on security, 25-19 on immigration, and May is still comfortably ahead of Corbyn in leadership polling. And the fact of the matter is, no Prime Minister has entered Downing Street while being behind in the polls on the questions of leadership and the economy.

Sebastian Payne talks about the “I’m Labour, but” problem being faced around the country. There are many voters up and down the country who have either been Labour all their lives, or are flirting with Labour due to their policies and their distaste for the Tories, but just can’t bring themselves to vote Corbyn. It’s important to remember that these are the voters more likely to change their minds at the last minute, and are likely to be currently inflating Labour’s vote share. These are the swing voters who want to protect their Brexit, and they believe that voting in May is the best route to that. These are the swing voters who are very worried about Corbyn’s links with the IRA, his taxation policies, his age, his views on Trident and defence, and his eagerness to borrow. Another “but” for these voters is John McDonnell along with his views on Marxism, and Diane Abbott, with her views on certain areas. The truth is, that first impressions really do count.

So, can Labour and Corbyn really do it? My belief, is still, no. As I’ve highlighted within this piece history shows that Labour are usually overstated in the polls, and it looks increasingly so again this time around. MPs and canvassers aren’t seeing the same reaction on the doors as the polls show, and usually the tales on the ground tell the true story. Add to that the traditional late swing to the norm and the Tories we’re likely to see in the next few days, it’s highly unlikely the Tories won’t increase their current majority.

In the voters’ eyes, Labour just don’t have answers to the key issues currently facing the country: immigration, Brexit, the economy, and security. Popular policies do not make up for this. Relying on the young, and non-voters is bound to disappoint, as youth turnout traditionally stays at home, and non-voters are just as habitual as lifelong party voters. Despite Labour’s surge, signs of victory are still far and few between. It now looks as though Labour will increase their vote share from 2015, but I still fully expect the Tories to have increased their majority come the morning of the 9th. But, I hope to god I am wrong. There’s nothing I’d like more than to see in a new Labour government come next Friday.

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