Conservatives Face Losses in Rural Strongholds
In the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives won 96 of the 100 most rural seats in England. Of the remaining four, Labour won three and the Liberal Democrats one. Just six of these victories were gains – five from Labour and one from the Lib Dems – and many of these seats are Conservative strongholds (a ‘Rural Rampart’, to play the arbitrary voter bloc naming game). The party won 59% of the vote in these rural constituencies in 2019 to Labour’s 20%, closely followed by the Lib Dems on 16%.
Polling conducted in April on behalf of the Country Land and Business Association, however, shows the Conservative’s lead over Labour reduced to just +5% in the 100 most rural seats in England, down from +39 points in 2019. Nationally, the Conservative voter base has a generational imbalance, as older voters are far more likely to vote Conservative. The same trend is exhibited here, with 57% of those aged 65+ intending to vote Conservative compared to just 25% of 18-34 year olds. Retaining voters in these rural constituencies may prove difficult for the Conservatives. Just 71% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 intend to do so again – the figure among Labour voters is 85%.
It appears that economic factors might be driving this swing from the Conservatives to Labour in rural English seats, as in the rest of the country. The cost of living is the dominant issue across all voters, and just 17% of rural inhabitants think the Government is doing enough to address the matter in rural areas. This figure is lowest among poorer households, and only 35% of those with a household income below £20,000 intend to vote Conservative compared to 47% of those with household incomes over £40,000. A majority (57%) of those who voted the Conservatives into Government do not think they are doing enough, and even among those intending to vote Conservative just 36% think the Government’s efforts have been sufficient. There is little chance of Labour or Lib Dem voters being swayed by the Conservative’s record to date, with 84% and 89% respectively saying they are not doing enough.
It is not entirely clear who rural voters trust to manage the UK’s economic recovery. Asked which party voters trust the most to stimulate growth in rural areas, the most popular selection was ‘don’t know’. The Conservatives’ 10 point lead over Labour on this question will give them hope, and this extends to +39 among those aged 65+ while Labour leads among 25-54 year olds.
In 2019, the Conservatives won watershed victories in these rural seats alongside robust support from their core voters. Sedgefield, previously held by Tony Blair; Workington (man), which had been Labour since 1979; and North West Durham, where key Corbyn ally Laura Pidcock was unseated, were all Conservative acquisitions from the red wall. Now, it is the Conservatives who face a challenge in their heartlands. Taking the swing from the 2019 results to the voting intention in these 100 most rural seats in England and applying it uniformly would see the Conservatives reduced to 75 seats, Labour up to 21, and the Lib Dems more modestly up to four. The Conservatives may well be facing landmark losses. South West Surrey, for example, is currently held by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, but faces severe pressure from the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives would like to take victory in these rural seats for granted heading into the next election; that they stand to lose 20 MPs here is testament to the uphill battle they face in attempting to overcome Labour’s 14 to 17 point polling lead.
Get the data
Survation conducted an online poll of 1,017 adults aged 18+ living in the 100 most rural constituencies in England on behalf of the Country Land and Business Association. Fieldwork was conducted between 13th - 24th April 2023. Tables are available here.
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