- Can the Labour Party win the next general election?
- Recent opinion polls put Boris Johnson’s Conservative party in the clear lead.
- However, there have been huge shifts in voting intention over the past year.
- Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn overturned poll leads of up to 25 points for Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May during the 2017 general election.
- Corbyn’s supporters believe he is capable of achieving the same against Johnson.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Can Labour win the next general election? That’s the question many British voters are asking themselves as the UK prepares to go back to the polls on December 12.
Recent opinion polls put Boris Johnson’s Conservative party clearly in the lead and suggest that he is on course to win a majority of seats in the next UK parliament.
However, there has been a high level of volatility in voting intention over the past year with huge shifts in public opinion over recent months.
Recent general election opinion polls
—Britain Elects (@britainelects) November 9, 2019
So could Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party ultimately end up winning this election? Here’s why it could still happen.
Johnson is in a weaker position than Theresa May was in 2017
When Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election in 2017, opinion polls put her as much as 25 points ahead.
However, by the end of that election campaign, Corbyn’s party was neck-and-neck with May’s Conservatives and she ended up losing her government’s majority in parliament.
Johnson, by contrast, entered this campaign with no majority in parliament and with much smaller leads in the polls. Some recent opinion polls have already shown that lead starting to shrink.
Could what happened in 2017 be about to repeat itself?
Johnson is repeating May’s failed campaign.
May fought the 2017 general election on a ticket of securing a large enough majority to deliver Brexit.
Her pitch — that voters should hand her enough members of Parliament to get the job done — was ultimately unsuccessful. Many voters backed Corbyn’s alternative pitch of increasing spending on public services.
Johnson is essentially trying to replicate this message, but hopes that he will be more effective in getting it across to voters.
He may well succeed. However, there are reasons to believe that he won’t.
Johnson could come unstuck in the debates
Johnson has agreed to take part in a series of one-on-one televised debates with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. His team believe that these debates will convince voters that the election is a choice between the prime minister and a Labour party leader, whom recent opinion polls suggest that the public is deeply dissatisfied with.
However, this confidence could be misplaced. Johnson’s record in televised debates has not been good. He was widely seen to have fared badly during televised debates against former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and had similarly poor performances in the EU referendum campaign. Corbyn, by contrast, was judged by pundits to have outperformed expectations during televised debates in the last few years.
The ‘remain’ vote is now much more efficiently distributed
A fascinating Twitter thread by an Oxford University political researcher earlier this month suggested that Johnson’s success in uniting the pro-Brexit vote might not translate into an actual lead in terms of seats.
—Leonardo Carella (@leonardocarella) October 2, 2019
Leonardo Carella’s theory — which was illustrated with a deep, graphical dive into recent electoral data — suggests that the pro-Brexit vote in the UK is now much less efficiently distributed around the country than the “remain” vote.
To put it in simpler terms: Pro-Brexit parties appear to be competing for the same votes in the same parts of the country, whereas more pro-EU parties are stronger in different parts of the UK.
So while the split in the “remain” vote might appear to benefit the Conservatives in national vote share, that may not fully manifest as seats on a local level.
If you add to this the possibility of digitally organised tactical voting among “remain” voters, the political landscape does not look quite as advantageous to Johnson as it first appears.
Johnson will have to gain lots of ground just to stand still
This effect could be heightened for Johnson in certain parts of the UK.
Recent polls in Scotland suggest Johnson is set to lose significant numbers of seats north of the border. Other national polls suggest the Liberal Democrats would pick up several seats from Johnson’s party in southern England.
This means that just to emerge with the same number of seats in Parliament he has, Johnson would need to make up every one of those lost seats, with additional seats taken from Labour.
If Labour’s national vote remains at its current level in the polls, this may well be possible. However, if Johnson hopes to regain a majority, he will need to win seats from Labour that have not been won by the Conservative Party for decades, if ever.
The Labour voters Johnson needs could prove too difficult to budge
An interesting poll conducted last month found that the sort of Labour voters Johnson would need to target were actually motivated much more by issues such as the state of public services and cost of living than they were by Brexit.
That’s why Johnson has spent so much time in recent months touring hospitals and announcing spending increases, in a bid to attract voters in the sort of northern Labour seats he needs to win a majority.
However, persuading these voters to back the Conservatives, after 10 years of spending cuts under a Conservative government, may prove simply too difficult.
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