What the local elections won’t tell us

Tomorrow represents the final electoral test before the general election. Voting will take place for 10 metro mayors in England; in 107 local councils; and residents of Blackpool South will elect a new MP.


There are some insights we will be able to draw from the results including:

– Whether Reform can translate its national polling figure (8-10%) into an effective ground campaign in Blackpool South. The Conservatives won the seat from Labour in 2019 with a majority of 11.3%. Given Labour is currently leading by 18 points nationally, the party is highly likely to win the seat without much of a contest. However, the by-election provides an opportunity for Reform to demonstrate it is capable of peeling off the 18% of 2019 Conservative voters as is currently indicated in the polls

– How Labour performs in areas with high concentration of Muslim voters, as there is evidence of dissatisfaction over the party’s stance on the conflict in Gaza. 

– If Andy Street and Ben Houchen can hold onto their mayoralties against a national collapse in the Conservative Party’s vote share.


Whatever happens in these contests will help to shape the narrative in Westminster over the coming weeks. Expect both parties to cherry-pick the results most favourable to them and argue this reflects sentiment nationally.


We should, however, be incredibly careful when extrapolating from local elections to general elections. Comparing seat gains and losses across local elections is hazardous, and the comparison to 2021 (when the Conservatives were polling at 43%) is particularly messy given that one third of the seats being contested were not last fought in 2021. Add in the fact that Reform are not standing in the majority of elections, meaning the Conservative vote will be propped up in a way that it will not in a general election, and we should be very cautious when drawing inferences from the results. 


Narrative is important to the Government, but the Conservative’s strategy problems pale in comparison to its problems with governing. What matters to voters are the fundamentals: the economy and public services. The cost of living and health/NHS have placed first and second in every iteration of our issues tracker since the beginning of Sunak’s premiership, with the broader economy in third.


Distrust of the Conservatives on these key issues is driving Labour’s robust 18 point lead. Labour leads the Conservatives on every major policy area except for defence, where the Conservatives hold a 1 point lead. When it comes to the top three issues, Labour holds a resounding 17 point lead on the cost of living, 28 point lead on health and the NHS, and an 11 point lead on the economy generally.


While the cost of living and the NHS are top two issues for all voters, immigration is far more salient among 2019 Conservative voters. A majority (52%) of those who backed Sunak’s party in 2019 rank it within their top three issues – a quarter of whom gave it the highest priority.


The Conservatives are losing equal numbers of 2019 voters to Labour and Reform (18%), and Sunak is leaning heavily into his Rwanda policy. Immigration is the top issue for those currently intending to vote Reform, as 75% ranked it in the top three compared to 48% of those intending to vote Conservative. Yet these voters do not trust the Government on the issue, with 73% of those intending to vote Reform saying they trust neither the Conservatives nor Labour.


Labour currently hold an 11 point lead over the Conservatives on immigration. Leaning into the issue might bring some 2019 voters back to the Conservatives, and we find 35% of those intending to vote Reform would consider voting for the party. However it also raises the salience of immigration. Should Sunak fail to meet his own benchmark for success, this could contribute to the sense his Government is failing to deliver. More than two thirds of people think Britain is broken, rising to three in four among those intending to vote Labour (76%), Lib Dem (75%), or Reform (79%).


A majority think the Conservative Party is divided (68%) and do not trust Sunak’s judgement (61%).


Much is written about there being little enthusiasm for Labour, but most people (58%) do see differences on the policy and political positions between the two main parties. Labour are more trusted on the issues which matter most, as is Keir Starmer personally. Whatever strategy adjustment emerges after the local elections, we should not expect the polls to move without delivery on public services and the cost of living. 


Get the data

Survation conducted an online poll of 2,036 adults aged 18+ living in the UK on behalf of Good Morning Britain. Fieldwork was conducted between 23rd – 25th April 2024. Tables are available here.


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